Relative impacts of global changes and regional watershed changes on the inorganic carbon balance of the Chesapeake Bay

The Chesapeake Bay is a large coastal-plain estuary that has experienced considerable anthropogenic change over the past century. At the regional scale, land-use change has doubled the nutrient input from rivers and led to an increase in riverine carbon and alkalinity. The bay has also experienced global changes, including the rise of atmospheric temperature and CO2. Here we seek to understand the relative impact of these changes on the inorganic carbon balance of the bay between the early 1900s and the early 2000s. We use a linked land–estuarine–ocean modeling system that includes both inorganic and organic carbon and nitrogen cycling. Sensitivity experiments are performed to isolate the effect of changes in (1) atmospheric CO2, (2) temperature, (3) riverine nitrogen loading and (4) riverine carbon and alkalinity loading. Specifically, we find that over the past century global changes have increased ingassing by roughly the same amount (∼30 Gg-C yr−1) as has the increased riverine loadings. While the former is due primarily to increases in atmospheric CO2, the latter results from increased net ecosystem production that enhances ingassing. Interestingly, these increases in ingassing are partially mitigated by increased temperatures and increased riverine carbon and alkalinity inputs, both of which enhance outgassing. Overall, the bay has evolved over the century to take up more atmospheric CO2 and produce more organic carbon. These results suggest that over the past century, changes in riverine nutrient loads have played an important role in altering coastal carbon budgets, but that ongoing global changes have also substantially affected coastal carbonate chemistry.

St-Laurent P., Friedrichs M. A. M., Najjar R. G., Shadwick E. H., Tian H. & Yao Y., 2020. Relative impacts of global changes and regional watershed changes on the inorganic carbon balance of the Chesapeake Bay. Biogeosciences 17:
3779–3796. Article.

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