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Hydrobiologia

, Volume 540, Issue 1–3, pp 47–67 | Cite as

Nutrient fluxes and water quality in the drainage network of the Scheldt basin over the last 50 years

  • Gilles Billen
  • Josette Garnier
  • Véronique Rousseau
Article

Abstract

and use and urban activity in the catchment of the Scheldt river system have deeply changed during the last 50 years, modifying in turn the water quality of the drainage network and the fluxes of nutrient transferred to the estuary and to the sea. Based on the RIVERSTRAHLER model, developed for establishing the link between the biogeochemical functioning of large river systems and the constraints set by the meteorology, the morphology of the drainage network and the human activity in the watershed, we reassembled the data available to document these constraints in the Scheldt basin since the last half of the XXth century and we used them to reconstruct the variations of nutrient and oxygen concentrations at the outlet of the Scheldt drainage network. We compared the results with the water quality data at the entrance of the estuarine zone available since the 1960s. Both model results and observational data show a very severe deterioration of water quality (with deep oxygen depletion) in the beginning of the 1960s, while a clear trend to improvement is apparent since the late 1980s. The budget of nutrient loadings from the watershed, retention within the drainage network and delivery to the estuarine zone is established on an annual basis for the 50 last years. The yearly fluxes of nutrient delivered by the river to the estuary and the sea show a severe depletion of silica with respect to nitrogen compared with the requirements of diatoms, and a clear shift from the early 1990s from nitrogen to phosphorus potential limitation. Seasonal variations of nutrient delivery are however much more pronounced for nitrogen, with much less inputs during the dry seasons, while phosphorus inputs, mainly from point sources are more constant, so that nitrogen limitation can still occur during summer. Compared with similar budget estimations carried out for the Seine river system, the Scheldt basin, in spite of its much higher population density, does not deliver higher specific fluxes of nutrient (presently about 2000 kgN/km2/yr, 80 kgP/km2/yr and 1000 kgSi/km2/yr), owing to very efficient processes of nutrient retention.

Keywords

Scheldt river nutrient eutrophication oxygen modelling 

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Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gilles Billen
    • 1
  • Josette Garnier
    • 1
  • Véronique Rousseau
    • 2
  1. 1.UMR Sisyphe, CNRS-Université P. & M. CurieParis cedex 05France
  2. 2.ESA, Université Libre de BruxellesBrusselsBelgium

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