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The average nitrate flux of the lower Mississippi River increased 3.3-fold between 1954–1967 and 1983–2000. During the same time period, the average nitrate concentration increased 2.3-fold while the average discharge increased 40%. Partitioning of the observed trend in nitrate flux among the two flux components, nitrate concentration and discharge, revealed that about 80% of the observed increase in flux could be explained by the increase in nitrate concentration. This indicates that a historical increase in the anthropogenic nutrient inputs has had a far greater impact on the lower Mississippi River nitrate flux than a change in climate. The influence of climatic factors on nitrate flux has been significant and may further increase as a result of global climate change. This argument is supported by two lines of evidence. The residual component of nitrate flux, obtained by removing a trend from the time series, is controlled primarily by the variability in discharge, i.e., climatic factors. Also, there is a highly significant relationship between discharge and nitrate concentration at the low end of the discharge spectrum (<13,000 m3 s−1). The differences in nitrate flux between flood and drought years are significantly larger than the variations in discharge. This makes the Mississippi River nitrate flux potentially sensitive to future changes in the frequency of extreme climatic events. Because of the importance of nitrate for the productivity of coastal phytoplankton, future climate change would likely have important implications for coastal marine eutrophication and hypoxia.

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