A two-dimensional (2D) reactive transport model is used to investigate the controls on nutrient (NO3-, NH4+, PO4) dynamics in a coastal aquifer. The model couples density-dependent flow to a reaction network which includes oxic degradation of organic matter, denitrification, iron oxide reduction, nitrification, Fe2+ oxidation and sorption of PO4 onto iron oxides. Porewater measurements from a well transect at Waquoit Bay, MA, USA indicate the presence of a reducing plume with high Fe2+, NH4+, DOC (dissolved organic carbon) and PO4 concentrations overlying a more oxidizing NO3- -rich plume. These two plumes travel nearly conservatively until they start to overlap in the intertidal coastal sediments prior to discharge into the bay. In this zone, the aeration of the surface beach sediments drives nitrification and allows the precipitation of iron oxide, which leads to the removal Of PO4 through sorption. Model simulations suggest that removal of NO3- through denitrification is inhibited by the limited overlap between the two freshwater plumes, as well as by the refractory nature of terrestrial DOC. Submarine groundwater discharge is a significant source of NO3- to the bay. (C) 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.