Water, Air, & Soil Pollution

, Volume 216, Issue 1–4, pp 605–619 | Cite as

A Synoptic Survey of Nitrogen and Phosphorus in Tributary Streams and Great Rivers of the Upper Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio River Basins

  • Brian H. HillEmail author
  • David W. Bolgrien
  • Alan T. Herlihy
  • Terri M. Jicha
  • Ted R. Angradi


We combined stream chemistry and hydrology data from surveys of 436 tributary stream sites and 447 great river sites in the Upper Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio River basins to provide a regional snapshot of baseflow total nitrogen (TN) and total phosphorus (TP) concentrations, and to investigate the relationships between land use and stream chemistry. Catchments in the Upper Mississippi River basin had more land in agricultural uses (51%) than the Missouri or Ohio River basin catchments (25% and 29%, respectively). The difference in agriculture is reflected in the TN concentrations in tributary streams and the great rivers: 5,431 and 2,112 μg L−1 for the Upper Mississippi, 1,751 and 978 μg L−1 for the Missouri, and 1,074 and 1,152 μg L−1 for the Ohio River basins. This agricultural effect was not as evident for tributary stream or great river TP concentrations: 165 and 181 μg L−1 in the Upper Mississippi, 177 and 171 μg L−1 in the Missouri, and 67 and 53 μg L−1 in the Ohio River basins. We set reference thresholds based on the 75th percentile TN and TP concentrations at our least disturbed sites. The TN threshold was exceeded for 50–63% of the tributary stream and 16–55% of great river lengths, with the greatest proportion in the Upper Mississippi River basin. The TP threshold was exceeded in 32–48% of tributary stream and 12–41% of great river lengths. Tributary stream N/P ranged from 67:1 (Ohio) to 210:1 (Upper Mississippi); river N/P ranged from 20:1 (Missouri) to 60:1 (Ohio). N/P indicated that potential N-limitation occurred in 10–21% of total tributary stream length and in 0–46% of great river length; potential P-limitation ranged from 60–83% of cumulative tributary stream length and from 21–98% of cumulative great river length. Total N flux (concentration × discharge) was highest in the Upper Mississippi River basin; TP flux was lowest in the Ohio River basin. River TN yields and TP yields for both tributary streams and great rivers, was not significantly different between the sub-basins. Our study empirically links catchment land use and stream chemistry, and demonstrates using monitoring data for estimating nutrient yields at a large regional scale.


Upper Mississippi Missouri Ohio River basins Nitrogen Phosphorus Nutrient flux Nutrient yield Snapshot methodology Spatial analysis 



We thank Xiaoli Yuan (USGS Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center) for analytical chemistry support for the EMAP samples and the numerous state analytical laboratories for WSA chemistry; Marlys Cappaert and her team (CSC, Corp.) for database support; and Tatiana Nawrocki, Matthew Starry, Roger Meyer, and Jesse Adams (CSC, Corp.) for GIS support. Tony Olsen supervised the creation of the survey designs. We are especially indebted to the numerous, state, federal, and contractor field crews who collected the WSA and EMAP-GRE data used in the project. The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the US Environmental Protection Agency. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.


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Copyright information

© US Government 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brian H. Hill
    • 1
    Email author
  • David W. Bolgrien
    • 1
  • Alan T. Herlihy
    • 2
  • Terri M. Jicha
    • 1
  • Ted R. Angradi
    • 1
  1. 1.Office of Research and Development, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Mid-Continent Ecology DivisionUS Environmental Protection AgencyDuluthUSA
  2. 2.Department of Fisheries and WildlifeOregon State University c/o USEPACorvallisUSA

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