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Nitrogen (N) inputs from human activities have led to ecological deteriorations in large parts of the coastal oceans along European coastlines, including harmful algae blooms and anoxia.
Riverine N-loads are the most pronounced nitrogen sources to coasts and estuaries. Other significant sources are nitrogen in atmospheric deposition and fixation.
This chapter describes all major N-turnover processes which are important for the understanding of the complexity of marine nitrogen cycling, including information on biodiversity.
Linkages to other major elemental cycles like carbon, oxygen, phosphorus and silica are briefly described in this chapter.
A tentative budget of all major sources and sinks of nitrogen integrated for global coasts is presented, indicating uncertainties where present, especially the N-loss capacity of ocean shelf sediments.
Finally, specific nitrogen problems in the European Regional Seas, including the Baltic Sea, Black Sea, North Sea, and Mediterranean Sea are described.
Key findings/state of knowledge
Today, human activity delivers several times more nitrogen to the coasts compared to the natural background of nitrogen delivery. The source of this is the land drained by the rivers. Therefore, the major European estuaries (e.g. Rhine, Scheldt, Danube and the coastlines receiving the outflow), North Sea, Baltic Sea, and Black Sea as well as some parts of the Mediterranean coastlines are affected by excess nutrient inputs.
Biodiversity is reduced under high nutrient loadings and oxygen deficiency. This process has led to changes in the nutrient recycling in sediments, because mature communities of benthic animals are lacking in disturbed coastal sediments. The recovery of communities may not be possible if high productivity and anoxia persist for longer time periods.
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