, Volume 475, Issue 1, pp 185–194 | Cite as

Long-term changes in Wadden Sea nutrient cycles: importance of organic matter import from the North Sea

  • J.E.E. van Beusekom
  • V.N. de Jonge


The Wadden Sea is a shallow tidal area along the North Sea coast of The Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. The area is strongly influenced by rivers, the most important of which are the rivers Rhine, Meuse and Elbe. Due to the increased nutrient load into the coastal zone the primary production in the Wadden Sea almost tripled during the past few decades. A conceptual model is presented that links nitrogen input (mainly nitrate) via Rhine and Meuse with the annual nitrogen cycle within the Wadden Sea. Three essential steps in the model are: (1) nitrogen limits the primary production in the coastal zone, (2) a proportional part of the primary produced organic matter is transported into the Wadden Sea and (3) the imported organic matter is remineralized within the Wadden Sea and supports the local productivity by nitrogen turn-over. The conceptual model predicts that during years with a high nutrient load more organic matter is produced in the coastal zone and more organic matter is transported into and remineralized within the Wadden Sea than during years with low nutrient loads. As a proxy for the remineralisation intensity ammonium plus nitrite concentrations in autumn were used. Based on monitoring data from the Dutch Wadden Sea (1977–1997) the above mentioned model was statistically tested. In autumn, however, a significant correlation was found between autumn values of ammonium and nitrite and river input of nitrogen during the previous winter, spring and summer. The analysis supports that in years with a high riverine nitrogen load more organic matter is remineralized within the Wadden Sea than in years with a low nitrogen load. A comparison with older data from 1960 to 1961 suggests that the remineralisation intensity in the Wadden Sea has increased by a factor of two to three. This is not reflected by a two to three-fold increase in riverine nitrogen load from 1960 to present. It is suggested that the increased remineralisation rates in the Dutch Wadden Sea between the 1960s and the 1980s/1990s are largely caused by an increased nitrogen flux through the Channel and the Strait of Dover and by an increased atmospheric nitrogen input.

Wadden Sea eutrophication long-term changes nitrogen cycle 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • J.E.E. van Beusekom
    • 1
  • V.N. de Jonge
    • 2
  1. 1.Alfred-Wegener-Institut für Polar- und Meeresforschung, Wattenmeerstation SyltList/SyltGermany
  2. 2.Department of Marine BiologyUniversity of GroningenHarenThe Netherlands

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