Fresh and saline submarine groundwater discharge as sources of carbon and nutrients to the Japan Sea


  • Fresh groundwater was comparable to the discharge from rivers and the main source of carbon, phosphate, and nitrate to coastal waters.
  • Groundwater-derived alkalinity fluxes were 7 times greater than river inputs, buffering the coastal ocean.
  • Nutrient and chlorophyll observations revealed the strong influence of groundwater discharge on primary productivity.


Submarine groundwater discharge (SGD) is an important pathway for carbon and nutrients to the coastal ocean, sometimes exceeding river inputs. SGD fluxes can have implications for long-term carbon storage, ocean acidification and nutrient dynamics. Here, we used radium (223Ra and 226Ra) isotopes to quantify SGD-derived fluxes of dissolved inorganic (DIC) and organic (DOC) carbon, nitrate (NO3), nitrite (NO2), ammonium (NH4+) and phosphate (PO43−) in a spring-fed coastal bay in the Japan Sea. The average coastal water residence times using 223Ra/226Ra ratios was 32.5 ± 17.9 days. Fresh and saline SGD were estimated using a radium mixing model with short- and long-lived isotopes. The volume of fresh SGD entering the bay (4.6 ± 4.6 cm day−1) was more than twice that of the volume of saline SGD (1.9 ± 2.1 cm day−1). Fresh SGD (mmol m2 day−1) was the main source of DOC (2.7 ± 2.6), DIC (13.9 ± 13.7), PO43− (0.3 ± 0.3) and NO3 (6.6 ± 6.5) to the coastal ocean, whereas saline SGD was the main source of NH4+ (0.2 ± 0.2). Total SGD-derived carbon and nutrient fluxes were 4 – 7 and 2–16 times greater than local river inputs. Positive correlations between chlorophyll-a, 226Ra and δ13C-DIC indicate that SGD significantly (p < 0.05) enhances primary productivity nearshore. Overall, fresh SGD of nitrogen and carbon to seawater drove chlorophyll-a, decreased DIC/Alkalinity ratios, and modified the carbonate biogeochemistry of the coastal ocean.

Cabral A., Sugimoto R., Taniguchi M., Tait D., Nakajima T., Honda H. & Santos I. R., 2023. Fresh and saline submarine groundwater discharge as sources of carbon and nutrients to the Japan Sea. Marine Chemistry 249: 104209. doi: 10.1016/j.marchem.2023.104209. Article.

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