Cross-shore transport and eddies promote large scale response to urban eutrophication

Fayçal Kessouri, Martha A. Sutula, Daniele Bianchi, Minna Ho, Pierre Damien, James C. McWilliams, Christina A. Frieder, Lionel Renault, Hartmut Frenzel, Karen McLaughlin, Curtis Deutsch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A key control on the magnitude of coastal eutrophication is the degree to which currents quickly transport nitrogen derived from human sources away from the coast to the open ocean before eutrophication develops. In the Southern California Bight (SCB), an upwelling-dominated eastern boundary current ecosystem, anthropogenic nitrogen inputs increase algal productivity and cause subsurface acidification and oxygen (O2) loss along the coast. However, the extent of anthropogenic influence on eutrophication beyond the coastal band, and the physical transport mechanisms and biogeochemical processes responsible for these effects are still poorly understood. Here, we use a submesoscale-resolving numerical model to document the detailed biogeochemical mass balance of nitrogen, carbon and oxygen, their physical transport, and effects on offshore habitats. Despite management of terrestrial nutrients that has occurred in the region over the last 20 years, coastal eutrophication continues to persist. The input of anthropogenic nutrients promote an increase in productivity, remineralization and respiration offshore, with recurrent O2 loss and pH decline in a region located 30–90 km from the mainland. During 2013 to 2017, the spatially averaged 5-year loss rate across the Bight was 1.3 mmol m-3 O2, with some locations losing on average up to 14.2 mmol m-3 O2. The magnitude of loss is greater than model uncertainty assessed from data-model comparisons and from quantification of intrinsic variability. This phenomenon persists for 4 to 6 months of the year over an area of 278,40 km2 (∼30% of SCB area). These recurrent features of acidification and oxygen loss are associated with cross-shore transport of nutrients by eddies and plankton biomass and their accumulation and retention within persistent eddies offshore within the SCB.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number7240
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Deoxygenation
  • Nitrogen coastal transport
  • Ocean acidification
  • Urban eutrophication


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