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Phosphorus and Nitrogen Transport in the Binational Great Lakes Basin Estimated Using SPARROW Watershed Models

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Eutrophication problems in the Great Lakes are caused by excessive nutrient inputs (primarily phosphorus, P, and nitrogen, N) from various sources throughout its basin. In developing protection and restoration plans, it is important to know where and from what sources the nutrients originate. As part of a binational effort, Midcontinent SPARROW (SPAtially Referenced Regression On Watershed attributes) models were developed and used to estimate P and N loading from throughout the entire basin based on nutrient inputs similar to 2002; previous SPARROW models only estimated U.S. contributions. The new models have a higher resolution (~2-km2 catchments) enabling improved descriptions of where nutrients originate and the sources at various spatial scales. The models were developed using harmonized geospatial datasets describing the stream network, nutrient sources, and environmental characteristics affecting P and N delivery. The models were calibrated using loads from sites estimated with ratio estimator and regression techniques and additional statistical approaches to reduce spatial correlation in the residuals and have all monitoring sites equally influence model development. SPARROW results, along with interlake transfers and direct atmospheric inputs, were used to quantify the entire P and N input to each lake and describe the importance of each nutrient source. Model results can be used to compare loading and yields from various tributaries and jurisdictions.




Robertson, D. M., Saad, D. A., Benoy, G. A., Vouk, I., Schwarz, G. E., & Laitta, M. T. (2019). Phosphorus and Nitrogen Transport in the Binational Great Lakes Basin Estimated Using SPARROW Watershed Models. Journal of the American Water Resources Association, 55(6), 1401–1424.

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