Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 40, Issue 2, pp 419–436 | Cite as

Effects of External Nutrient Sources and Extreme Weather Events on the Nutrient Budget of a Southern European Coastal Lagoon

  • Erik -jan Malta
  • Tibor Y. Stigter
  • André Pacheco
  • Amélia Carvalho Dill
  • Diogo Tavares
  • Rui SantosEmail author


The seasonal and annual nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and carbon (C) budgets of the mesotidal Ria Formosa lagoon, southern Portugal, were estimated to reveal the main inputs and outputs, the seasonal patterns, and how they may influence the ecological functioning of the system. The effects of extreme weather events such as long-lasting strong winds causing upwelling and strong rainfall were assessed. External nutrient inputs were quantified; ocean exchange was assessed in 24-h sampling campaigns, and final calculations were made using a hydrodynamic model of the lagoon. Rain and stream inputs were the main freshwater sources to the lagoon. However, wastewater treatment plant and groundwater discharges dominated nutrient input, together accounting for 98, 96, and 88 % of total C, N, and P input, respectively. Organic matter and nutrients were continuously exported to the ocean. This pattern was reversed following extreme events, such as strong winds in early summer that caused upwelling and after a period of heavy rainfall in late autumn. A principal component analysis (PCA) revealed that ammonium and organic N and C exchange were positively associated with temperature as opposed to pH and nitrate. These variables reflected mostly the benthic lagoon metabolism, whereas particulate P exchange was correlated to Chl a, indicating that this was more related to phytoplankton dynamics. The increase of stochastic events, as expected in climate change scenarios, may have strong effects on the ecological functioning of coastal lagoons, altering the C and nutrient budgets.


Coastal lagoon Groundwater Wastewater treatment plants Nutrient budget Climate change Ria Formosa 



The authors wish to thank Ana Alexandre, Susana Cabaço, Alexandra Cunha, Pedro Feijóo, Leonardo Mata, Inês Paixão, Abraham Pastor, and Diogo Paulo for their invaluable assistance during the 24-h sampling cycles. Monya Costa is acknowledged for carrying out most of the nutrient analyses of the water samples. The Instituto de Socorros a Náufragos at Farol Island kindly offered us their hospitality and space for setting up a field lab during the 24-h samplings. The present study was performed in the scope of the research projects POCI/MAR/58427/2004 and PPCDT/MAR/58427/2004 funded by the Portuguese Science and Technology Foundation (FCT). EM acknowledges a postdoctoral fellowship grant from the Portuguese Science and Technology Foundation (FCT).

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ALGAE–Marine Plant Ecology Research Group, Center of Marine Sciences (CCMAR)University of AlgarveFaroPortugal
  2. 2.El Ulvario consultancy, C/Olvera 1-17CádizSpain
  3. 3.UNESCO-IHE, Department of Water Science and EngineeringDelftthe Netherlands
  4. 4.Centre for Marine and Environmental Research (CIMA)University of AlgarveFaroPortugal
  5. 5.FCT/DCTMAUniversity of AlgarveFaroPortugal

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