Contrasting subsurface denitrification characteristics under temperate pasture lands and its implications for nutrient management in agricultural catchments
Subsurface denitrification plays a key role in the reduction or ‘attenuation’ of nitrate contamination of groundwater and surface waters. We investigated subsurface denitrification characteristics in the vadose zone and shallow groundwater at four sites under pastoral farming in the Manawatū River catchment, located in the lower part of North Island, New Zealand. The denitrification potential of the vadose zone was determined by the laboratory incubation assays measuring the denitrifying enzyme activity (DEA) in soil samples collected from different soil horizons (up to 2.1 m below ground surface), whereas denitrification rates in shallow groundwaters were measured in situ by single-well, push-pull tests conducted in piezometers installed at multiple depths at the study sites. Soils and underlying geology, defining hydrogeologic settings, appear to influence the spatial variability of subsurface denitrification characteristics at the study sites. Where the vadose zone is thin and composed of coarse-textured soils, percolation of nitrate was evident in observed high nitrate-nitrogen concentrations (>5 mg L⁻¹) in oxic and young shallow groundwaters, but low nitrate-nitrogen concentrations (<0.05 mg L⁻¹) were observed in the reduced shallow groundwater found underneath the fine textured soils and/or a thick vadose zone. This was confirmed by the push-pull tests measuring denitrification rates from 0.08 to 1.07 mg N L⁻¹ h⁻¹ in the reduced shallow groundwaters (dissolved oxygen or DO < 0.5 mg L⁻¹), while negligible in the oxic groundwaters (DO > 5 mg L⁻¹) found at the study sites. These contrasting subsurface denitrification characteristics determine the ultimate delivery of nitrate losses from agricultural soils to receiving waters, where the fine textured thick vadose zone and reducing groundwater conditions offer nitrate reduction in the subsurface environment.... [Show full abstract]
Keywordsagriculture; water quality; nitrate attenuation; push-pull test; shallow groundwater; New Zealand; Environmental Sciences; Nitrates; Water Pollutants, Chemical; Environmental Monitoring; Denitrification; Groundwater; Nutrients
Fields of Research050304 Soil Chemistry (excl. Carbon Sequestration Science); 030503 Organic Chemical Synthesis
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