We review various aspects of the structure and functioning of Danish estuaries from data collected by the National Monitoring Program and from information in published sources. We present data on the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of estuaries in Denmark, we evaluate the functioning of these systems as filters and transformers of nutrients and we evaluate the outlook for Danish estuaries in the future. Danish estuarine systems are for the most part shallow (<3 m deep), have short residence times, and tend to be heavily loaded with nutrients primarily from agricultural sources. Total average loads from land per unit watershed area are 112 kg P km−2 yr−1 and 2,400 kg N km−2 yr−1 during the period 1989–1995. The total phosphorus (TP) load in estuaries has been significantly reduced over the last decade, following implementation of the 1987 Action Plan for the Aquatic Environment (Vandmiljøplan in Danish) that prescribed that nitrogen loads to the total aquatic environment should be reduced by 50% and phosphorus loads by 80%. Reductions in the total nitrogen (TN) load have been more modest. Nutrient loading is one of the primary determinants of estuarine nutrient concentration with 70% of the annual variation in TN concentration and 55% of the annual variation in TP concentration explained by variation in the load. Many Danish estuaries have rich communities of macrophytes and benthic filter feeders, such asMytlis edulis andCiona intestinalis, that can control water column chlorophyll concentrations by their filter feeding activities. Many of the estuaries experience hypoxia and anoxia, especially during warm and calm summer months. Further reductions in nutrient loading are expected following implementation of the Action Plan for the Aquatic Environment II, with predicted improvements in oxygen concentrations and in the functioning of these shallow, dynamic estuarine systems.
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