Small Reservoirs as Nitrogen Transformers: Accounting for Seasonal Variability in Inorganic and Organic Nitrogen Processing

Academic Article


  • AbstractAnthropogenic nitrogen (N) inputs to the landscape have serious consequences for inland and coastal waters. Reservoirs are effective at mitigating downstream N fluxes but measurements have generally focused on large reservoirs and have not considered seasonal variability or all N forms. In this study, we conducted an N mass balance in eight small reservoirs (surface area <0.55┬ákm2) in coastal New England over annual time periods, including both inorganic and organic forms of N. We found that small reservoirs have high capacity for dissolved inorganic N (DIN) retention during low and moderate discharge, but are roughly in balance for DIN at higher discharge. Because proportional DIN retention occurred when N inputs were at their lowest, their effect on downstream N fluxes is small over annual time frames. Further, dissolved organic N (DON) was also evident during low flow late in the warm season. Accounting for DON production, the net effect of reservoirs on total dissolved N (TDN) fluxes was limited. These transformations between inorganic and organic N should be considered when evaluating the effect of small reservoirs on TDN fluxes over seasonal and annual timescales. With dam removal becoming a common solution to aging, unsafe dams, their ability to retain or produce N must be scrutinized at longer time scales while accounting for the complete N pool to better comprehend the effect their reservoirs have on downstream waters.
  • Authors

  • Whitney, Christopher T
  • Wollheim, Wilfred
  • Gold, Arthur J
  • Buonpane, Joshua M
  • Status

    Publication Date

  • November 2023
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)


  • 128
  • Issue

  • 11