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Nitrogen-Loads to Streams: Importance of Bypass Flow and Nitrate Removal Processes

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  • Mads Steiness, University of Copenhagen
  • ,
  • Søren Jessen, University of Copenhagen
  • ,
  • Sofie G.M. van’t Veen
  • Tue Kofod, University of Copenhagen, Danish Water Works
  • ,
  • Anker Lajer Højberg, Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, Ramboll Group AS
  • ,
  • Peter Engesgaard, University of Copenhagen

N-loads from subsurface, drains, and groundwater-fed surface (bypass) flows via two riparian zones (crop field and wetland) to a second order stream were investigated by sampling of shallow and deep groundwater on both sides and monthly measurements of bypass flows from springs, drains, and stream including water quality (nitrate). A push-pull test in the crop field gave a first-order denitrification rate (0.23 day–1). Reactive transport modeling evaluated observations of water chemistry and denitrification processes in the groundwater below the crop field showing that nitrate was completely removed by denitrification with pyrite in the aquifer (model rates of 0.6–2.5 mmol NO3 L−1 yr−1). A drain in the crop field routed ∼10% (bypass) of the regional groundwater inflow to the stream. Buffer efficiency was high at 90%. The wetland on the other side of the stream hosts several locations of nitrate-rich bypass flow from springs, predominantly through a non-maintained drainage system of drainpipes and ditches with bypass flow accounting for 59% of the regional flow input. Nitrate was completely removed in groundwater by denitrification with dissolved organic matter in shallow groundwater. The regional inflow and N load to the wetland is amongst the highest recorded and data shows that the N load to the stream is very high. The buffer efficiency ranged from 45% to 83% depending on if all bypass flows contributed to the stream or only the two with visible outflow. A conceptual model for nitrate removal efficiency as a function of Damköhler number and percent bypass flow is proposed.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2020JG006111
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Publication statusPublished - May 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021. The Authors.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

    Research areas

  • bypass flow, conceptual model, nitrate removal, reactive transport modeling, riparian zones

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