Submarine groundwater discharge as a major source of nutrients to the Mediterranean Sea

Document Type

Journal Article


National Academy of Sciences


School of Science / Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research




Originally published as: Rodellas, V., Garcia-Orellana, J., Masqué, P., Feldman, M. & Weinstein, Y. (2015). Submarine groundwater discharge as a major source of nutrients to the Mediterranean Sea in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112(13), 3926-3930. Available here.


The Mediterranean Sea (MS) is a semienclosed basin that is considered one of the most oligotrophic seas in the world. In such an environment, inputs of allochthonous nutrients and micronutrients play an important role in sustaining primary productivity. Atmospheric deposition and riverine runoff have been traditionally considered the main external sources of nutrients to theMS, whereas the role of submarine groundwater discharge (SGD) has been largely ignored. However, given the large Mediterranean shore length relative to its surface area, SGD may be a major conveyor of dissolved compounds to the MS. Here, we used a 228Ra mass balance to demonstrate that the total SGD contributes up to (0.3-4.8)·1012 m3·y-1 to the MS, which appears to be equal or larger by a factor of 16 to the riverine discharge. SGD is also a major source of dissolved inorganic nutrients to the MS, with median annual fluxes of 190·109, 0.7·109, and 110·109 mol for nitrogen, phosphorous, and silica, respectively, which are comparable to riverine and atmospheric inputs. This corroborates the profound implications that SGD may have for the biogeochemical cycles of the MS. Inputs of other dissolved compounds (e.g., iron, carbon) via SGD could also be significant and should be investigated.



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