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Sci Total Environ. 2013 Apr 15;450-451:92-107. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2013.01.096. Epub 2013 Mar 5.

Natural and human influences on nutrient transport through a small subtropical Chinese estuary.

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Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Ecology, Wetland Dynamics Group, Biogeochemistry & Geology Department, D-28359 Bremen, Fahrenheitstr. 6-8, Germany.


Global understanding of land-ocean nutrient fluxes increasingly recognizes the disproportionate importance of small rivers. We studied nutrient fluxes from a small catchment in fast developing southern China to uncover effects of land-use. Water was sampled in the macro-tidal estuary of Nanliu River and adjacent Lianzhou Bay in spring and summer of investigate spatial and temporal variations of dissolved nutrients. High riverine concentrations of nitrate (NO3; up to 220 μM) and phosphate (PO4; up to 3.7 μM) mainly originated from agricultural fertilizer input. Riverine dissolved silica (Si; up to 47 μM) increased in the oligosaline part of the estuary through human disturbance of bottom sediments. Dissolved organic nitrogen (DON; up to 194 μM) and ammonium (NH4; up to 40 μM) concentrations increased within the estuary due to inputs from livestock and mussel beds, respectively. Aquaculture ponds contained high concentrations of NH4 (up to 355 μM) and DON (up to 151 μM) but are not an important source to the estuary due to rare wastewater discharge and low absolute nutrient amounts relative to river export. Nutrient concentrations in Lianzhou Bay were low because tidal currents disperse land-derived nutrients offshore into the adjacent Beibu Gulf. A high proportion of regenerated nitrogen in the bay suggests that primary production is sustained by rapid in situ nutrient cycling between primary producers and benthic consumers. High nutrient export makes the Nanliu River an important nutrient source for the north-western South China Sea, despite its proportionately small size. Macro-tide induced short-term concentration changes exceed variability on seasonal and sub-seasonal scales. All nutrients vary inter-annually and between seasons, depending on precipitation-driven river runoff. Total nutrient export to Beibu Gulf coastal waters is stronger during the high discharge period in summer and autumn. In recent years changing nitrogen to phosphorus ratios have alleviated phosphorus limitation in Lianzhou Bay, permitting increased primary productivity.

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