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Tropical Beaches Attenuate Groundwater Nitrogen Pollution Flowing to the Ocean

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posted on 22.06.2021, 11:21 by Till Oehler, Murugan Ramasamy, Mintu E. George, Suresh D. S. Babu, Kirstin Dähnke, Markus Ankele, Michael E. Böttcher, Isaac R. Santos, Nils Moosdorf
Tropical urbanized coastal regions are hotspots for the discharge of nutrient-enriched groundwater, which can affect sensitive coastal ecosystems. Here, we investigated how a beach modifies groundwater nutrient loads in southern India (Varkala Beach), using flux measurements and stable isotopes. Fresh groundwater was highly enriched in NO3 from sewage or manure. Submarine groundwater discharge and nearshore groundwater discharge were equally important contributors to coastal NO3 fluxes with 303 mmol NO3 m–1 day–1 in submarine and 334 mmol NO3 m–1 day–1 in nearshore groundwater discharge. However, N/P ratios in nearshore groundwater discharge were up to 3 orders of magnitude greater than that in submarine groundwater, which can promote harmful algae blooms. As groundwater flowed through the beach, N/P ratios decreased toward Redfield ratios due to the removal of 30–50% of NO3 due to denitrification and production of PO4 due to mineralization of organic matter. Overall, tropical beaches can be important natural biogeochemical reactors that attenuate nitrogen pollution and modify N/P ratios in submarine groundwater discharge.