Nutrient export to an Eastern Atlantic coastal zone: first modeling and nitrogen mass balance

We have studied 15 catchments supplying freshwater to a French Atlantic coastal lagoon, where increase in nitrogen loads due to agriculture is supposed to have destabilized the ecosystem in the last decades. The catchment is a lowland composed of Pleistocene sands with an average slope of 0.25%. To study the nutrient export in relation to land-use surface waters were sampled bi-weekly between October 2006 and January 2009 and land-use was established by plane photographs and Geographic Information System (GIS). Cultivated pine forests represent more than 80% of the total surface and 7% of the catchment area has been deforested recently. Significant areas of some catchments are used for maize crop. Housing is confined to the coastal zone. Maize and forest crop give a robust signature in terms of nitrate export. In view of modeling the nutrient fluxes, we have established the mean export rate for every land-use: forested parcels, deforested parcels, cultivated surfaces, and housing areas export 45, 93, 2850, and 61 kg N-nitrate km(-2) year(-1), respectively. Exports of ammonium, dissolved organic N (DON), and dissolved inorganic P (DIP) could not be related to land use. The mean export is 13, 100, and 0.57 kg km(-2) year(-1) for N-ammonium, DON, and DIP, respectively. The modeling of nitrogen flux is in good agreement with our measures for the largest catchment, which supplies about 90% of the total continental DIN flux. However, small catchments are more dynamic due to hydrological conditions and the model is less accurate. This work has permitted to complete and unify scattered studies about nutrient cycling in this area. Thus we have established and compared the nitrogen budget of cornfields and cultivated pine forest. We have emphasized that (i) fertilizer use should be reduced in cornfields because they stock between 200 and 6400 kg DIN km(-2) year(-1), and (ii) the nitrogen budget in pine forest mostly depends on tree harvesting and symbiotic N-fixation, which is poorly constrained. Export of N by rivers represents a small contribution to the N budget of soils.


Nitrogen, Phosphorus, River export, Land use, Coastal catchment, Arcachon Bay, Modeling, Mass balance

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Canton Mathieu, Anschutz Pierre, Coynel Alexandra, Polsenaere Pierre, Auby Isabelle, Poirier Dominique (2012). Nutrient export to an Eastern Atlantic coastal zone: first modeling and nitrogen mass balance. Biogeochemistry. 107 (1-3). 361-377.,

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