A nitrate budget of the Bohai Sea based on an isotope mass balance model


The Bohai Sea (BHS) is a semi-closed marginal sea impacted by one of the most populated areas of China. The supply of nutrients, markedly that of reactive nitrogen, via fluvial and atmospheric transport has strongly increased in parallel with the growing population. Therefore, it is crucial to quantify the reactive nitrogen input to the BHS and understand the processes and determine the quantities of nitrogen eliminated in and exported from the BHS. The nitrogen budget and in particular the internal sources and sinks of nitrate were constrained by using a mass-based and dual stable isotope approach based on δ15N and δ18O of nitrate (NO). Samples of water, suspended matter, and sediments were taken in the BHS in spring (March and April) and summer (July and August) 2018. The Yellow River (YR) was sampled in May and July to November, and Daliao River, Hai River, Luan River, and Xiaoqing River were sampled in November of 2018. In addition to nutrient, particulate organic carbon, and nitrogen concentrations, the dual isotopes of nitrate (δ15N and δ18O), δ15N of suspended matters, and sediments were determined. Based on the available mass fluxes and isotope data an updated nitrogen budget is proposed. Compared to previous estimates, it is more complete and includes the impact of interior cycling (nitrification) on the nitrate pool. The main nitrate sources are rivers contributing 19.2 %–25.6 % and the combined terrestrial runoff (including submarine fresh groundwater discharge of nitrate) accounting for 27.8 %–37.1 % of the nitrate input to the BHS, while atmospheric input contributes 6.9 %–22.2 % to total nitrate. An unusually active interior nitrogen cycling contributes 40.7 %–65.3 % to total nitrate via nitrification. Nitrogen is mainly trapped in the BHS and mainly removed by sedimentation (70.4 %–77.8 %), and only very little is exported to the Yellow Sea (YS) (only 1.8 %–2.4 %). At present denitrification is active in the sediments and removes 20.4 %–27.2 % of nitrate from the pool. However, a further eutrophication of the BHS could induce water column hypoxia and denitrification, as is increasingly observed in other marginal seas and seasonally off river mouths.
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