Importance of suspended participates in riverine delivery of bioavailable nitrogen to coastal zones


  • Lawrence M. Mayer,

  • Richard G. Keil,

  • Stephen A. Macko,

  • Samantha B. Joye,

  • Kathleen C. Ruttenberg,

  • Robert C. Aller


Total nitrogen (TN) loadings in riverine sediments and their coastal depocenters were compared for 11 river systems worldwide to assess the potential impact of riverine particulates on coastal nitrogen budgets. Strong relationships between sediment specific surface area and TN allow these impacts to be estimated without the intense sampling normally required to achieve such budgets. About half of the systems showed higher nitrogen loadings in the riverine sediments than those from the coastal depocenter. In spite of uncertainties, these comparisons indicate that large, turbid rivers, such as the Amazon, Huanghe, and the Mississippi, deliver sediments that in turn release significant or major fractions of the total riverine nitrogen delivery. Riverine particulates must therefore be considered an essential factor in watershed nutrient loading to coastal ecosystems and may affect delivered nutrient ratios as well as total nutrient loading. The relative importance of particulate versus dissolved delivery has decreased over recent decades in the Mississippi as a result of damming and fertilizer use in the watershed.