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Ambio. 2005 Mar;34(2):145-50.

Tracing the influence of sewage nitrogen in a coastal ecosystem using stable nitrogen isotopes.

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Department of Marine Science, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.


This paper reviews the use of stable nitrogen isotopes (delta15N) to delineate the influence of sewage nitrogen (N) in coastal ecosystems, drawing extensively on the case of HimmerfjÀrden, a Baltic Sea bay that receives 15N-enriched tertiary treated sewage that is discharged mainly as dissolved inorganic N (DIN). Gradients of delta15N in macroalgae (Fucus vesiculosus) and surface sediments traced sewage-derived N to 24 km from the outfall but elevated delta15N values (> 7 per thousand) indicated that the sewage influence was most pronounced within 10 km. Comparison of macroalgal delta15N values before and after enhanced tertiary treatment showed a decrease in the spatial impact of sewage N from about 24 km to 12 km from the outfall and a decrease to more marine delta15N values in more recent growth tissues. Sedimentary delta15N records showed that sewage has had a dominant influence on organic matter production in the bay with dramatic increases in sedimentary delta15N during the years of maximum sewage N loads. In cases where sewage N introduces a distinct isotopic signature into a system and where it has had a dominant influence on organic matter production, delta15N values in biota and sediments can be used to trace the spatial and temporal influence of sewage N in aquatic ecosystems.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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