Nutrient loading will put those areas at heightened risk of experiencing algal blooms, which pose risks to both human health and the environment.

Depending on the type of algae, blooms can produce toxins that harm both human and animal life. Algal blooms also contribute to “dead zones,” where there is little oxygen in the water to support a healthy ecosystem. In addition, algal blooms can also increase costs for drinking water treatment and for industrial sectors that rely on clean water. And the risk of algal blooms is increasing due to warmer temperatures, related to global climate change.

“We know the importance of nutrient loadings to ecosystem health, so we wanted to assess estuaries across the 48 contiguous states to determine how vulnerable these estuaries are to increased nutrient loads,” says Lise Montefiore, co-corresponding author of a paper on the work and a postdoctoral researcher at North Carolina State University.

“Essentially, our goal was to use predictive modeling to estimate average annual nutrient loads for estuaries between the years 2035 and 2065. We were able to conduct assessments of all major estuaries in the lower 48 states, with the exception of the Mississippi River estuary.”

“One of the drivers for this study is that once an estuary has elevated nutrient loads, it is exceptionally difficult to restore that estuary,” says Natalie Nelson, co-corresponding author of the study and an assistant professor of biological and agricultural engineering. “It’s more effective to prevent high nutrient loads in the first place than it is to address nutrient loading problems once they’re established. We wanted to help policymakers identify which systems are most at risk and could benefit substantially from conservation efforts to prevent increased nutrient loads.”

Read the full article about nutrient loading by Matt Shipman at Futurity.