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A multi-stable isotope framework to understand eutrophication in aquatic ecosystems

Gooddy, Daren C.; Lapworth, Dan J.; Bennett, Sarah A.; Heaton, Tim H.E.; Williams, Peter J.; Surridge, Ben W.J.. 2016 A multi-stable isotope framework to understand eutrophication in aquatic ecosystems. Water Research, 88. 623-633. 10.1016/j.watres.2015.10.046

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Abstract/Summary

Eutrophication is a globally significant challenge facing aquatic ecosystems, associated with human induced enrichment of these ecosystems with nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P). However, the limited availability of inherent labels for P and N has constrained understanding of the triggers for eutrophication in natural ecosystems and appropriate targeting of management responses. This paper proposes and evaluates a new multi-stable isotope framework that offers inherent labels to track biogeochemical reactions governing both P and N in natural ecosystems. The framework couples highly novel analysis of the oxygen isotope composition of phosphate (δ18OPO4) with dual isotope analysis of oxygen and N within nitrate (δ15NNO3, δ18ONO3) and with stable N isotope analysis in ammonium (δ15NNH4). The River Beult in England is used as an exemplar system for initial evaluation of this framework. Our data demonstrate the potential to use stable isotope labels to track the input and downstream fate of nutrients from point sources, on the basis of isotopic differentiation for both P and N between river water and waste water treatment work effluent (mean difference = +1.7‰ for δ18OPO4; +15.5‰ for δ15NNH4 (under high flow); +7.3‰ for δ18ONO3 and +4.4‰ for δ15NNO3). Stable isotope data reveal nutrient inputs to the river upstream of the waste water treatment works that are consistent with partially denitrified sewage or livestock sources of nitrate (δ15NNO3 range = +11.5 to +13.1‰) and with agricultural sources of phosphate (δ18OPO4 range = +16.6 to +19.0‰). The importance of abiotic and metabolic processes for the in-river fate of N and P are also explored through the stable isotope framework. Microbial uptake of ammonium to meet metabolic demand for N is suggested by substantial enrichment of δ15NNH4 (by 10.2‰ over a 100 m reach) under summer low flow conditions. Whilst the concentration of both nitrate and phosphate decreased substantially along the same reach, the stable isotope composition of these ions did not vary significantly, indicating that concentration changes are likely driven by abiotic processes of dilution or sorption. The in-river stable isotope composition and the concentration of P and N were also largely constant downstream of the waste water treatment works, indicating that effluent-derived nutrients were not strongly coupled to metabolism along this in-river transect. Combined with in-situ and laboratory hydrochemical data, we believe that a multi-stable isotope framework represents a powerful approach for understanding and managing eutrophication in natural aquatic ecosystems

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): 10.1016/j.watres.2015.10.046
ISSN: 00431354
Additional Keywords: GroundwaterBGS, Groundwater
Date made live: 11 Nov 2015 14:57 +0 (UTC)
URI: http://nora.nerc.ac.uk/id/eprint/512193

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