Human activities have increased nitrate export from rivers, degrading coastal water quality. At deltaic river mouths, the flow of water through wetlands increases nitrate removal, and the spatial organization of removal rates influences coastal water quality. To understand the spatial distribution of nitrate removal in a river‐dominated delta, we deployed 23 benthic chambers across ecogeomorphic zones with varying elevation, vegetation, and sediment properties in Wax Lake Delta (Louisiana, USA) in June 2018. Regression analyses indicate that normalized difference vegetation index is a useful predictor of summertime nitrate removal. Mass transfer velocity were approximately three times greater on a vegetated submerged levee (13 mm hr−1), where normalized difference vegetation index was greatest, compared to other locations (4.6 mm hr−1). Two methods were developed to upscale nitrate removal across the delta. The flooded‐delta method integrates spatially explicit potential removal rates across submerged portions of the delta and suggests that intermediate elevations on the delta—including submerged levees—are responsible for 70% of potential nitrate removal despite covering only 33% of the flooded area. The channel network method treats the delta as a network of river channels and suggests that although secondary channels are more efficient than primary channels at removing received nitrate, primary channels collectively contribute more to overall removal because they convey more of the total nitrate load. The two upscaling methods predict similar rates of nitrate removal, equivalent to less than 4% of nitrate entering the delta. To protect coastal waters against high nitrate loads, management policies should aim to reduce upstream nutrient loads.
- NSF-PAR ID:
- Date Published:
- Journal Name:
- Sustainability Science
- Medium: X
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
More Like this
Due to their position at the land–sea interface, barrier islands are vulnerable to both oceanic and atmospheric climate change‐related drivers. In response to relative sea‐level rise, barrier islands tend to migrate landward via overwash processes which deposit sediment onto the backbarrier marsh, thus maintaining elevation above sea level. In this paper, we assess the importance of interior upland vegetation and sediment transport (from upland to marsh) on the movement of the marsh–upland boundary in a transgressive barrier system along the mid‐Atlantic Coast. We hypothesize that recent woody expansion is altering the rate of marsh to upland conversion. Using Landsat imagery over a 32 year time period (1984–2016), we quantify transitions between land cover (bare, grassland, woody vegetation, and marsh) and the marsh–upland boundary. We find that the Virginia Barrier Islands have both gains and losses in backbarrier marsh and upland, with 19% net loss from the system during the timeframe of the study and increased variance in marsh to upland conversion. This is consistent with recent work indicating a shift toward increasing rates of landward barrier island migration. Despite a net loss of upland area, macroclimatic winter warming resulted in 41% increase in woody vegetation in protected, low‐elevation areas, introducing new ecological scenarios that increase resistance to sediment movement from upland to marsh. Our analysis demonstrates how the interplay between elevation and interior island vegetative cover influences landward migration of the boundary between upland and marsh (a previously underappreciated indicator that an island is migrating), and thus, the importance of including ecological processes in the island interior into coastal modeling of barrier island migration and sediment movement across the barrier landscape.
Deltaic islands are distinct hydro-environmental zones with global significance in food security, biodiversity conservation, and fishery industry. These islands are the fundamental building blocks of many river deltas. However, deltaic islands are facing severe challenges due to intensive anthropogenic activities, sea level rise, and climate change. In this study, dynamic changes of deltaic islands in Wax Lake Delta (WLD) and Atchafalaya Delta (AD), part of the Atchafalaya River Delta Complex (ARDC) in Louisiana, USA, were quantified based on remote sensing images from 1991 to 2019 through a machine learning method. Results indicate a significant increase in deltaic islands area for the whole ARDC at a rate of 1.29 km2/yr, with local expansion rates of 0.60 km2/yr for WLD and 0.69 km2/yr for AD. All three parts of the WLD naturally prograded seaward, with the western part (WP) and central part (CP) expanding southwestward to the sea, while the eastern part (EP) prograding southeastwards. Differently from WLD, the three parts of AD irregularly expanded seaward under the impacts of anthropogenic activities. The WP and CP of the AD expanded respectively northwestwards and southwestwards, while the EP remained stable. Different drivers dominate the growth of deltaic islands in the WLD and AD. Specifically, fluvial suspended sediment discharge and peak flow events were responsible for the shift in the spatial evolution of WLD, while dredging and sediment disposal contributed to the expansion of AD. Tropical storms with different intensity and landing locations caused short-term deltaic island erosion or expansion. Tropical storms mainly generated erosion on the deltaic islands of the WLD, while causing transient erosion or siltation on the deltaic islands of the AD. In addition, high-intensity hurricanes that made landfall east of the deltas caused more erosion in the AD. Finally, sea level rise, at the current rate of 8.17 mm/yr, will not pose a threat to the deltaic island of WLD, while the eastern part of AD may be at risk of drowning. This study recognizes the complexity of factors influencing the growth of deltaic islands, suggesting that quantitative studies on the deltaic island extent are of critical for the restoration and sustainable management of the Mississippi River Delta and other deltas around the world.more » « less
Complete transformations of land cover from prairie, wetlands, and hardwood forests to row crop agriculture and urban centers are thought to have caused profound changes in hydrology in the Upper Midwestern US since the 1800s. In this study, we investigate four large (23 000–69 000 km2) Midwest river basins that span climate and land use gradients to understand how climate and agricultural drainage have influenced basin hydrology over the last 79 years. We use daily, monthly, and annual flow metrics to document streamflow changes and discuss those changes in the context of precipitation and land use changes. Since 1935, flow, precipitation, artificial drainage extent, and corn and soybean acreage have increased across the region. In extensively drained basins, we observe 2 to 4 fold increases in low flows and 1.5 to 3 fold increases in high and extreme flows. Using a water budget, we determined that the storage term has decreased in intensively drained and cultivated basins by 30–200 % since 1975, but increased by roughly 30 % in the less agricultural basin. Storage has generally decreased during spring and summer months and increased during fall and winter months in all watersheds. Thus, the loss of storage and enhanced hydrologic connectivity and efficiency imparted by artificial agricultural drainage appear to have amplified the streamflow response to precipitation increases in the Midwest. Future increases in precipitation are likely to further intensify drainage practices and increase streamflows. Increased streamflow has implications for flood risk, channel adjustment, and sediment and nutrient transport and presents unique challenges for agriculture and water resource management in the Midwest. Better documentation of existing and future drain tile and ditch installation is needed to further understand the role of climate versus drainage across multiple spatial and temporal scales.more » « less
Coastal rivers that build deltas undergo repeated avulsion events—that is, abrupt changes in river course—which we need to understand to predict land building and flood hazards in coastal landscapes. Climate change can impact water discharge, flood frequency, sediment supply, and sea level, all of which could impact avulsion location and frequency. Here we present results from quasi‐2D morphodynamic simulations of repeated delta‐lobe construction and avulsion to explore how avulsion location and frequency are affected by changes in relative sea level, sediment supply, and flood regime. Model results indicate that relative sea‐level rise drives more frequent avulsions that occur at a distance from the shoreline set by backwater hydrodynamics. Reducing the sediment supply relative to transport capacity has little impact on deltaic avulsions, because, despite incision in the upstream trunk channel, deltas can still aggrade as a result of progradation. However, increasing the sediment supply relative to transport capacity can shift avulsions upstream of the backwater zone because aggradation in the trunk channel outpaces progradation‐induced delta aggradation. Increasing frequency of overbank floods causes less frequent avulsions because floods scour the riverbed within the backwater zone, slowing net aggradation rates. Results provide a framework to assess upstream and downstream controls on avulsion patterns over glacial‐interglacial cycles, and the impact of land use and anthropogenic climate change on deltas.