Nitrogen loading to Pleasant Bay, Cape Cod: application of models and stable isotopes to detect incipient nutrient enrichment of estuaries. Academic Article uri icon


  • To test and refine methods to detect nutrient enrichment and resulting eutrophication, we applied the Waquoit Bay nitrogen loading model (NLM) and Estuarine loading model (ELM) to estuaries of Pleasant Bay that receive increasing but low N loads (25-199 kg N ha(-1) yr(-1)) from land. Contributions of wastewater to these estuaries increased from 7% to 63% as N loads increased, and modeled estimates of dissolved inorganic nitrogen in the water were within approximately 27% of measured values. N isotopic signatures in suspended and benthic organic matter and in tissue of quahogs increased as wastewater contributions to N loads increased, with clams approximately 4 per thousand heavier than organic matter, indicating that even at these low N loads, N from land-derived sources moved detectably up the food web. These results extend the application of NLM and ELM to detect incipient levels of N enrichment and demonstrate that these models can be used in conjunction with isotope measurements as the basis for food web analyses in a system exposed to relatively lower N loads than previously studied.

publication date

  • January 2004