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Nitrogen Source Apportionment for the Catchment, Estuary, and Adjacent Coastal Waters of the River Scheldt

Jan E Vermaat, Earth Sciences and Economics, Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, VU University
Steven Broekx, Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO)
Bert Van Eck, Deltares
Guy Engelen, Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO)
Fritz Hellmann, Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM), VU University
Jean Luc De Kok, Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO)
Hans Van der Kwast, Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO)
Joachim Maes, Joint Research Centre-European Commission
Wim Salomons, Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM), VU University
Willem Van Deursen, PCRaster


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Using the systems approach framework (SAF), a coupled model suite was developed for simulating land-use decision making in response to nutrient abatement costs and water and nutrient fluxes in the hydrological network of the Scheldt River, and nutrient fluxes in the estuary and adjacent coastal sea. The purpose was to assess the efficiency of different long-term water quality improvement measures in current and future climate and societal settings, targeting nitrogen (N) load reduction. The spatial-dynamic model suite consists of two dynamically linked modules: PCRaster is used for the drainage network and is combined with ExtendSim modules for farming decision making and estuarine N dispersal. Model predictions of annual mean flow and total N concentrations compared well with data available for river and estuary (r² ≥ 0.83). Source apportionment was carried out to societal sectors and administrative regions; both households and agriculture are the major sources of N, with the regions of Flanders and Wallonia contributing most. Load reductions by different measures implemented in the model were comparable (~75% remaining after 30 yr), but costs differed greatly. Increasing domestic sewage connectivity was more effective, at comparatively low cost (47% remaining). The two climate scenarios did not lead to major differences in load compared with the business-as-usual scenario (~88% remaining). Thus, this spatially explicit model of water flow and N fluxes in the Scheldt catchment can be used to compare different long-term policy options for N load reduction to river, estuary, and receiving sea in terms of their effectiveness, cost, and optimal location of implementation.

Key words

catchment hydrology, coupled modeling, estuary, eutrophication, land use, systems analysis, watershed nutrient loading

Copyright © 2012 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087