Dynamics of groundwater-derived nitrate and nitrous oxide in a tidal estuary from radon mass balance modeling

Wei Wen Wong, Michael R. Grace, Ian Cartwright, M. Bayani Cardenas, Peter B. Zamora and Perran L. M. Cook

Limnol. Oceanogr., 58(5), 2013, 1689-1706 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2013.58.5.1689

ABSTRACT: We monitored submarine groundwater discharge (SGD) into the Werribee Estuary, Australia, using both chemical and physical methods. SGD occurred at hotspots where 222Rn persisted through a 12 month survey period. A significant correlation between 222Rn and (r2 = 0.8, p < 0.01), as well as between 222Rn and N2O (r2 = 0.6, p < 0.01) at a 222Rn hotspot, and much higher and N2O concentrations in groundwater relative to surface water suggest that elevated and N2O concentrations in the estuary were derived from SGD. Two sampling campaigns over 24 h revealed that variations of 222Rn, , and N2O were controlled by tide-induced hydraulic-head gradient fluctuations and, possibly to a much lesser extent, by tidal pumping and density-driven convection. A two-box 222Rn mass-balance model was used to calculate the rate of SGD into two different layers across the pycnocline of the estuary. A higher total groundwater discharge rate of 0.12 ± 0.09 m d−1 was observed in the surface layer during ebb tide compared with 0.10 ± 0.08 m d−1 during flood tide. Fluxes of groundwater-derived and N2O were higher than the riverine flux at baseflow by more than 30 fold and 20 fold, respectively. SGD derived fluxes exceeded the mean annual riverine and TN fluxes by a factor of ∼ 5 and ∼ 3 respectively. SGD-derived N2O fluxes were 170 µmol m−2 d−1, which are among the highest N2O fluxes observed in estuaries.

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