Excessive nutrient inputs from land, particularly nitrogen (N), have been found to increase the occurrence of hypoxia and harmful algal blooms in coastal ecosystems. To identify the main contributors of increased N loading and evaluate the efficacy of water pollution control policies, it is essential to quantify and attribute the long-term changes in riverine N export. Here, we use a state-of-the-art terrestrial–aquatic interface model to examine how multiple environmental factors may have affected N export from the Chesapeake Bay watershed since 1900. These factors include changes in climate, carbon dioxide, land use, and N inputs (i.e., atmospheric N deposition, animal manure, synthetic N fertilizer use, and wastewater discharge). Our results estimated that ammonium (NH4+) and nitrate (NO3−) export increased substantially (66% for NH4+ and 123% for NO3−) from the 1900s to the 1990s and then declined (32% for NH4+ and 14% for NO3−) since 2000. The temporal trend of dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) export paralleled that of dissolved inorganic N, while particulate organic nitrogen export was relatively constant during 1900–2015. Precipitation was the primary driver of interannual variability in N export to the Bay. Wastewater discharge explained most of the long-term change in riverine NH4+ and DON fluxes from 1900 to 2015. The changes in atmospheric deposition, wastewater, and synthetic fertilizer were responsible for the trend of riverine NO3−. In light of our model-based attribution analysis, terrestrial non-point source nutrient management will play an important role in achieving water quality goals.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Soil Science
- Water Science and Technology
- Atmospheric Science
- Aquatic Science