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Increased extreme rains intensify erosional nitrogen and phosphorus fluxes to the northern Gulf of Mexico in recent decades...

by Zeli Tan, L. Ruby Leung, Hongyi Li, Xiaojuan Yang
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Environmental Research Letters
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Soil erosion delivers enormous amounts of macro-nutrients including nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) from land to rivers, potentially sustaining water column bioavailable nutrient levels for decades. In this study, we represent erosional N and P fluxes in the Energy Exascale Earth System Model (E3SM) and apply the model to the continental United States. We estimate that during 1991–2019 soil erosion delivers 775 Gg yr−1 (1 Gg = 109 g) of particulate N (PN) and 328 Gg yr−1 of particulate P (PP) on average to the drainage basins of the northern Gulf of Mexico, including the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River and other rivers draining to the Texas Gulf and the Eastern Gulf. Our model simulation shows that in these rivers PP is the dominant P constituent and over 55% of P exported by erosion comes from soil P pools that could become bioavailable within decades. More importantly, we find that during 1991–2019 erosional N and P fluxes increase at rates of about 15 Gg N yr−1 and 6 Gg P yr−1, respectively, due to increased extreme rains in the Mississippi/Atchafalaya river basin, and this intensification of erosional N and P fluxes drive the significant increase of riverine PN and PP yields to the northern Gulf of Mexico. With extreme rains projected to increase with warming, erosional nutrient fluxes in the region would likely continue to rise in the future, thus complicating the effort of reducing eutrophication in the inland and coastal waters.