This study aims to evaluate recent total phosphorus (TP) and dissolved inorganic phosphorus (DIP) transport from three coastal rivers—the Calcasieu, Mermentau, and Vermilion Rivers—that drain watersheds with varied agriculture intensities (21%, 67%, and 61%, respectively) into the northern Gulf of Mexico, one of the world’s largest summer hypoxic zones. The study also examined the spatial trends of TP and DIP from freshwater to saltwater along an 88-km estuarine reach with salinity increasing from 0.02 to 29.50. The results showed that from 1990–2009 to 2010–2017, the TP fluxes for one of the agriculture-intensive rivers increased while no significant change was found for the other two rivers. Change in river discharge was the main reason for this TP flux trend. The two more agriculture-intensive river basins showed consistently higher TP and DIP concentrations and fluxes, as well as higher DIP:TP ratios than the river draining less agriculture-intensive land, confirming the strong effect of land uses on phosphorus input and speciation. Longitudinal profiles of DIP along the salinity gradient of the estuarine reach displayed characteristic input behavior. Desorption of DIP from suspended solids and river bed sediments, urban inputs, as well as stronger calcium carbonate and phosphorus co-precipitation at the marine endmember could be the reasons for such mixing dynamics.
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