Exposure of inner-shelf reefs to nutrient enriched runoff entering the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon: post-European changes and the design of water quality targets

Wooldridge, Scott, Brodie, Jon, and Furnas, Miles (2006) Exposure of inner-shelf reefs to nutrient enriched runoff entering the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon: post-European changes and the design of water quality targets. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 52 (11). pp. 1467-1479.

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Abstract

We used historical flood plume extent data (modelled) to quantify the typical spatial extent of the summer runoff–seawater mixing zone of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) lagoon. Spatially explicit analysis of the variability of in situ chlorophyll a concentrations (observed) across the runoff–seawater mixing zone, then allowed us to explore regional differences in the nutrient enrichment impact of runoff events from the various river systems that drain the GBR catchment. We demonstrate the existence of a discernable north–south gradient along the length of the GBR, such that for equivalent runoff:seawater dilutions ratios, lower levels of nutrient enrichment (as indicated by chlorophyll a observations) result from the river systems that drain the relatively undisturbed northern areas of the GBR catchment, compared to more human-impacted central and south areas. We identify a strong correlation between this north–south enrichment gradient and the flood concentration of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) entrained by the various river systems. By substituting the nutrient enrichment characteristics of the human-impacted river discharges with those of the undisturbed northern rivers, we provide a means to compare the short-term enriching ‘footprint’ for existing runoff intrusions with those that are likely to have occurred under pre-European catchment conditions. We demonstrate that under pre-European conditions, the nutrient enriching impact from river runoff was likely to have been largely constrained within 1–2 km of the coast, whereas existing conditions support the impact of reefs some 20–30 km off the coast. By using the developed spatial relations, we show that for the heavily human-impacted river systems, reductions in the end-of-river concentrations of DIN in the order 50–80% are needed in order to restore parity with pre-European conditions. We discuss these results in regard to developing end-of-catchment water quality targets for the region.

Item ID: 4107
Item Type: Article (Refereed Research - C1)
Keywords: nutrients; river run off; Great Barrier Reef
ISSN: 1879-3363
Date Deposited: 28 Sep 2009 04:03
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050209 Natural Resource Management @ 50%
05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050205 Environmental Management @ 25%
05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050207 Environmental Rehabilitation (excl Bioremediation) @ 25%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960508 Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Mining Environments @ 51%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9613 Remnant Vegetation and Protected Conservation Areas > 961303 Protected Conservation Areas in Marine Environments @ 49%
Citation Count from Web of Science Web of Science 54
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