Articles | Volume 20, issue 3
Research article
07 Mar 2016
Research article |  | 07 Mar 2016

Linking biogeochemistry to hydro-geometrical variability in tidal estuaries: a generic modeling approach

Chiara Volta, Goulven Gildas Laruelle, Sandra Arndt, and Pierre Regnier

Abstract. This study applies the Carbon-Generic Estuary Model (C-GEM) modeling platform to simulate the estuarine biogeochemical dynamics – in particular the air–water CO2 exchange – in three idealized tidal estuaries characterized by increasing riverine influence, from a so-called "marine estuary" to a "riverine estuary". An intermediate case called "mixed estuary" is also considered. C-GEM uses a generic biogeochemical reaction network and a unique set of model parameters extracted from a comprehensive literature survey to perform steady-state simulations representing average conditions for temperate estuaries worldwide. Climate and boundary conditions are extracted from published global databases (e.g., World Ocean Atlas, GLORICH) and catchment model outputs (GlobalNEWS2). The whole-system biogeochemical indicators net ecosystem metabolism (NEM), C and N filtering capacities (FCTC and FCTN, respectively) and CO2 gas exchanges (FCO2) are calculated across the three idealized systems and are related to their main hydrodynamic and transport characteristics. A sensitivity analysis, which propagates the parameter uncertainties, is also carried out, followed by projections of changes in the biogeochemical indicators for the year 2050.

Results show that the average C filtering capacities for baseline conditions are 40, 30 and 22 % for the marine, mixed and riverine estuary, respectively, while N filtering capacities, calculated in a similar fashion, range from 22 % for the marine estuary to 18 and 15 % for the mixed and the riverine estuaries. Sensitivity analysis performed by varying the rate constants for aerobic degradation, denitrification and nitrification over the range of values reported in the literature significantly widens these ranges for both C and N. Simulations for the year 2050 suggest that all estuaries will remain largely heterotrophic, although a slight improvement of the estuarine trophic status is predicted. In addition, our results suggest that, while the riverine and mixed systems will only marginally be affected by an increase in atmospheric pCO2, the marine estuary is likely to become a significant CO2 sink in its downstream section. In the decades to come, such a change in behavior might strengthen the overall CO2 sink of the estuary–coastal ocean continuum.

Short summary
A generic estuarine model is applied to three idealized tidal estuaries representing the main hydro-geometrical estuarine classes. The study provides insight into the estuarine biogeochemical dynamics, in particular the air-water CO2/sub> flux, as well as the potential response to future environmental changes and to uncertainties in model parameter values. We believe that our approach could help improving upscaling strategies to better integrate estuaries in regional/global biogeochemical studies.