Estimating the Cross-Shelf Export of Riverine Materials: Part 2. Estimates of Global Freshwater and Nutrient Export

Jonathan G. Izett*, Katja Fennel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
36 Downloads (Pure)


Rivers deliver large amounts of fresh water, nutrients, and other terrestrially derived materials to the coastal ocean. Where inputs accumulate on the shelf, harmful effects such as hypoxia and eutrophication can result. In contrast, where export to the open ocean is efficient riverine inputs contribute to global biogeochemical budgets. Assessing the fate of riverine inputs is difficult on a global scale. Global ocean models are generally too coarse to resolve the relatively small scale features of river plumes. High-resolution regional models have been developed for individual river plume systems, but it is impractical to apply this approach globally to all rivers. Recently, generalized parameterizations have been proposed to estimate the export of riverine fresh water to the open ocean (Izett & Fennel, 2018,; Sharples et al., 2017, Here the relationships of Izett and Fennel (), are used to derive global estimates of open-ocean export of fresh water and dissolved inorganic silicate, dissolved organic carbon, and dissolved organic and inorganic phosphorus and nitrogen. We estimate that only 15-53% of riverine fresh water reaches the open ocean directly in river plumes; nutrient export is even less efficient because of processing on continental shelves. Due to geographic differences in riverine nutrient delivery, dissolved silicate is the most efficiently exported to the open ocean (7-56.7%), while dissolved inorganic nitrogen is the least efficiently exported (2.8-44.3%). These results are consistent with previous estimates and provide a simple way to parameterize export to the open ocean in global models.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)176–186
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Coastal processes
  • Global estimates
  • Nutrients
  • Ocean
  • River plumes


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