Natural background concentrations of nutrients in the German Bight area (North Sea)

Environ Monit Assess. 2011 Mar;174(1-4):361-88. doi: 10.1007/s10661-010-1463-y. Epub 2010 May 2.


Natural background concentrations of nutrients are needed for the assessments of eutrophication processes and their status. Natural background concentrations of total nitrogen (TN) and total phosphorus (TP) were modelled for the rivers discharging into the German Bight and the Rhine considering individual catchment sizes, freshwater flows and soil types. These data were validated by comparison with data from unpolluted rivers. The consistency of modelled and some compiled nutrient concentrations was confirmed by their area-specific load dependency on freshwater discharges. Pristine inorganic nutrient concentrations were deduced from modelled relations to TN and TP in unpolluted rivers. Pristine nutrient gradients between rivers and offshore waters were estimated by linear mixing until a salinity of 32, continued by hyperbolic fits towards recent mean offshore values (salinity 34.5-35). Based on these gradients and recent mean salinities, maps of pristine surface gradients were plotted for the whole German Bight. Variability was transferred from recent conditions as percentage of standard deviation. Reported historical nutrient data and concentrations from unpolluted rivers, coastal and offshore North Sea waters are discussed concerning their relations to natural background conditions.

MeSH terms

  • Eutrophication
  • Germany
  • Nitrogen / analysis*
  • Phosphorus / analysis*
  • Seawater / chemistry*


  • Phosphorus
  • Nitrogen