Quantifying groundwater discharge through fringing wetlands to estuaries: Seasonal variability, methods comparison, and implications for wetland-estuary exchange

CR Tobias
SA Macko
IC Anderson
EA Canuel
JW Harvey


A groundwater plume enriched in (15)NO(3)(-) was created upgradient of a mesohaline salt marsh. By measuring the changes in concentration and isotopic enrichment of NO(3)(-), N(2)O, N(2), NH(4)(+), and particulate organic nitrogen (PON) during plume transport through the marsh, in situ rates of dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium (DNRA) and denitrification (DNF) were estimated, as well as N storage in the reduced N pools. For groundwater discharge within the top 10 cm of marsh, NO(3)(-) removal was 90% complete within the 50 cm of marsh nearest the upland border. The peak NO(3)(-) loss rate from the plume ranged from 208 to 645 muM d(-1). Rates of DNRA (180 muM d(-1)) and DNF (387-465 muM d(-1)) processed 30% and 70% of the NO(3)(-) load, respectively. Terminal N(2)O production was approximately equal to N(2) production rates during DNE Comparison of (15)N lost from the (15)O(3)(-) pool and (15)N gained in each of the reduced products accounted for only 22% of the reduced (15)N, thus indicating N export from the system. Despite high rates of DNRA, the NH(+) produced was not a long-term repository for the groundwater-derived N but was instead rapidly immobilized into marsh PON and retained on longer timescales. The small inventory of (15)N in the N(2)O and N(2) pools relative to DNF rates, coincident with an undersaturation of dissolved argon, indicated that denitrified N was exported to the atmosphere on short timescales. The relative magnitudes of DNF and DNRA in conjunction with the immobilization of NH(4)(+) and evasion of N gases dictated the extent of export versus retention of the groundwater NO(3)(-) load.