Assessment of changes in nutrient and sediment delivery to and carbon accumulation in coastal oceans of the Eastern United States

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Brian A Bergamaschi1, Richard A Smith2, Jhih-Shyang Shih3, Terry L Sohl4, Benjamin M Sleeter5 and Zhiliang Zhu2, (1)California State University Sacramento, Sacramento, CA, United States, (2)USGS, Reston, VA, United States, (3)Resources for the Future, Washington, DC, United States, (4)USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center, Sioux Falls, SD, United States, (5)USGS Western Regional Offices Menlo Park, Menlo Park, CA, United States
Land-use and land-cover distributions are primary determinants of terrestrial fluxes of sediments and nutrients to coastal oceans. Sediment and nutrient delivery to coastal waters have already been significantly altered by changes in population and land use, resulting in modified patterns of coastal production and carbon storage. Continued population growth and increasing agricultural areal extent and intensity are expected to accelerate these changes.

The USGS LandCarbon project developed prospective future land use and land cover projections based on IPCC scenarios A1b, A2 and B1 to 2050 as the basis for a multitude of biogeochemical assessments. We assessed the impacts on delivery of nutrients and sediments to the coastal ocean, and concomitant carbon storage. Fluxes were estimated using the SPARROW model, calibrated on historical water quality measurements.

Significantly greater fluxes of nutrients and sediments to coastal waters by 2050 are projected by the model. For example, for the Eastern United States, nitrate fluxes for 2050 are projected to be16 to 52 percent higher than the baseline year, depending on scenario. As a consequence, an associated increase in the frequency and duration of coastal and estuarine hypoxia events and harmful algal blooms could be expected. Model estimates indicate that these prospective future nutrient and sediment fluxes will increase carbon storage rates in coastal waters by 18 to 56 percent in some regions.