Human activities have increased nitrate export from rivers, degrading coastal water quality. At deltaic river mouths, the flow of water through wetlands increases nitrate removal, and the spatial organization of removal rates influences coastal water quality. To understand the spatial distribution of nitrate removal in a river-dominated delta, we deployed 23 benthic chambers across ecogeomorphic zones with varying elevation, vegetation, and sediment properties in Wax Lake Delta (Louisiana, USA) in June 2018. Regression analyses indicate that normalized difference vegetation index is a useful predictor of summertime nitrate removal. Mass transfer velocity were approximately three times greater on a vegetated submerged levee (13 mm hr−1), where normalized difference vegetation index was greatest, compared to other locations (4.6 mm hr−1). Two methods were developed to upscale nitrate removal across the delta. The flooded-delta method integrates spatially explicit potential removal rates across submerged portions of the delta and suggests that intermediate elevations on the delta—including submerged levees—are responsible for 70% of potential nitrate removal despite covering only 33% of the flooded area. The channel network method treats the delta as a network of river channels and suggests that although secondary channels are more efficient than primary channels at removing received nitrate, primary channels collectively contribute more to overall removal because they convey more of the total nitrate load. The two upscaling methods predict similar rates of nitrate removal, equivalent to less than 4% of nitrate entering the delta. To protect coastal waters against high nitrate loads, management policies should aim to reduce upstream nutrient loads.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Water Science and Technology