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Many studies of ground water pollution in general and nitrate contamination in particular have often relied on a one-time investigation, tracking of individual wells, or aggregate summaries. Studies of changes in spatial distribution of contaminants over time are lacking. This paper presents a method to compare spatial distributions for possible changes over time. The large-scale spatial distribution at a given time can be considered as a surface over the area (a trend surface). The changes in spatial distribution from period to period can be revealed by the differences in the shape and/or height of surfaces. If such a surface is described by a polynomial function, changes in surfaces can be detected by testing statistically for differences in their corresponding polynomial functions. This method was applied to nitrate concentration in a population of wells in an agricultural drainage basin in Iowa, sampled in three different years. For the period of 1981-1992, the large-scale spatial distribution of nitrate concentration did not show significant change in the shape of spatial surfaces; while the magnitude of nitrate concentration in the basin, or height of the computed surfaces showed significant fluctuations. The change in magnitude of nitrate concentration is closely related to climatic variations, especially in precipitation. The lack of change in the shape of spatial surfaces means that either the influence of land use/nitrogen management was overshadowed by climatic influence, or the changes in land use/management occurred in a random fashion.
Additional Publication Details
Detecting changes in the spatial distribution of nitrate contamination in ground water
Journal of the American Water Resources Association