Maps of the Great Lakes region using different colors to show nutrient concentrations.
Modeling the concentration of nutrients in the river basins draining into the Great Lakes allows for identification of pollution hotspots. Credit: Basu et al. [2023], Figure 5(a-d)
Editors’ Highlights are summaries of recent papers by AGU’s journal editors.
Source: Earth’s Future

High concentrations of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) in freshwaters can severely affect water quality and ecosystem health. A common result is the undesirable appearance of harmful algal blooms. To develop efficient strategies to reduce the environmental impacts of nutrient pollution in freshwaters, the drivers of pollution first need to be understood. However, the dynamics of nutrient transport in large river basins linked to agricultural activities are difficult to study due to complex interactions between management practices and territorial and climatic conditions.

Basu et al. [2023] take an important step beyond these considerations to understand how crop and livestock production and land management affect nutrient flows and concentrations in the vast area of the Great Lakes. The authors use the information from a dense network of monitoring stations to construct a model following machine-learning approaches to predict seasonal and annual concentrations of nutrients. The model allowed the authors to identify the key drivers of pollution and is a decisive step in confronting the huge challenge of producing food while reducing environmental impacts at the regional scale.

Citation: Basu, N. B., Dony, J., Van Meter, K. J., Johnston, S. J., & Layton, A. T. (2023). A random forest in the Great Lakes: Stream nutrient concentrations across the transboundary Great Lakes Basin. Earth’s Future, 11, e2021EF002571.

—Luis Lassaletta, Associate Editor, Earth’s Future

Text © 2023. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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