Journal cover Journal topic
Biogeosciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
Journal topic
Volume 9, issue 7
Biogeosciences, 9, 2661–2672, 2012
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-9-2661-2012
© Author(s) 2012. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Biogeosciences, 9, 2661–2672, 2012
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-9-2661-2012
© Author(s) 2012. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 19 Jul 2012

Research article | 19 Jul 2012

Use of geomorphic, hydrologic, and nitrogen mass balance data to model ecosystem nitrate retention in tidal freshwater wetlands

E. D. Seldomridge and K. L. Prestegaard E. D. Seldomridge and K. L. Prestegaard
  • Department of Geology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA

Abstract. Geomorphic characteristics have been used as scaling parameters to predict water and other fluxes in many systems. In this study, we combined geomorphic analysis with in-situ mass balance studies of nitrate retention (NR) to evaluate which geomorphic scaling parameters best predicted NR in a tidal freshwater wetland ecosystem. Geomorphic characteristics were measured for 267 individual marshes that constitute the freshwater tidal wetland ecosystem of the Patuxent River, Maryland. Nitrate retention was determined from mass balance measurements conducted at the inlets of marshes of varying size (671, 5705, and 536 873 m2) over a period of several years. Mass balance measurements indicate that NR is proportional to total water flux over the tidal cycle. Relationships between estimated tidal prism (calculated water volume) for spring tides and various geomorphic parameters (marsh area, total channel length, and inlet width) were defined using measurements from air photos and compared to field data. From these data, NR equations were determined for each geomorphic parameter, and used to estimate NR for all marshes in the ecosystem for a reference spring (high) tide. The resulting ecosystem NR estimates were evaluated for (a) accuracy and completeness of geomorphic data, (b) relationship between the geomorphic parameters and hydrologic flux, and (c) the ability to adapt the geomorphic parameter to varying tidal conditions. This analysis indicated that inlet width data were the most complete and provided the best estimate of ecosystem nitrate retention. Predictions based on marsh area were significantly lower than the inlet width-based predictions. Cumulative probability distributions of nitrate retention indicate that the largest 3–4% of the marshes retained half of the total nitrate for the ecosystem.

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