Uncertainty in nutrient loads resulting from discharge data uncertainty

Reliable estimates of nutrient loads discharged to the sea are important for managing marine and upstream water resources. Most major river mouths in Sweden are monitored for discharge and nutrient concentrations. These data are used together with direct point source loads as the basis for annual load estimates. The estimates are used as a basis for national environmental policy and they are reported to international bodies such as the EEA (SoE TCM report), OSPAR (OSPAR RID report) and HELCOM (PLC-Annual report). The Pollution Load Compilation-Annual (PLC-Annual) report to HELCOM is used as evidence for managing eutrophication in the Baltic Sea.

The reliability of load estimates based on monitoring data in gauged catchments is affected by uncertainty in the discharge and nutrient concentration data. Knowledge about the uncertainty associated with the load estimate values is of fundamental importance when using these data as a basis for management decisions, e.g. for assessing fulfillment of national environmental objectives, or analysing trends in the loads over time (i.e. is it a real change that is observed or is it a result of data uncertainty?). In the PLC-Annual reports for 2015 and onwards both the loads and the estimated uncertainty in the loads should be reported. The aim of this study was to quantify uncertainty in discharge data resulting from rating curve uncertainty and its impact on uncertainty in the nitrogen and phosphorous PLC-Annual load estimates at selected river mouths.