Phosphorus in groundwater—an overlooked contributor to eutrophication?

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Abstract

This paper presents the first international assessment of phosphorus concentrations in groundwater, using data from the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. Phosphorus is considered to be the main limiting nutrient in most freshwater ecosystems. Controlling phosphorus inputs is thus considered the key to reducing eutrophication and managing ecological quality. Very little attention has been paid to evaluating transfers via groundwater due to the long-held belief that adsorption and metal complex formation retain the majority of potentially mobile phosphorus. In each country, ecologically-important phosphorus thresholds are exceeded in a significant number of groundwater samples. The relative contributions of potential sources for these elevated concentrations are currently unclear but there is evidence to suggest that they are at least partly anthropogenic. The results suggest that groundwater P concentrations are such that they may be a more important contributor to surface water phosphorus than previously thought.

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