Forested headwater streams in the Catskill Mountains of New York show significant among-catchment variability in mean annual nitrate (NO3-) concentrations. Large contributions from deep groundwater with high NO3- concentrations have been invoked to explain high NO3- concentrations in stream water during the growing season. To determine whether variable contributions of groundwater could explain among-catchment differences in streamwater, we measured NO3- concentrations in 58 groundwater seeps distributed across six catchments known to have different annual average streamwater concentrations. Seeps were identified based on release from bedrock fractures and bedding planes and had consistently lower temperatures than adjacent streamwaters. Nitrate concentrations in seeps ranged from near detection limits (0.005 mg NO3--N/L) to 0.75 mg NO3--N/L. Within individual catchments, groundwater residence time does not seem to strongly affect NO3- concentrations because in three out of four catchments there were non-significant correlations between seep silica (SiO2) concentrations, a proxy for residence time, and seep NO3- concentrations. Across catchments, there was a significant but weak negative relationship between NO3- and SiO2 concentrations. The large range in NO3- concentrations of seeps across catchments suggests: 1) the principal process generating among-catchment differences in streamwater NO3- concentrations must influence water before it enters the groundwater flow system and 2) this process must act at large spatial scales because among-catchment variability is much greater than intra-catchment variability. Differences in the quantity of groundwater contribution to stream baseflow are not sufficient to account for differences in streamwater NO3- concentrations among catchments in the Catskill Mountains.
Additional publication details
Catchment-scale variation in the nitrate concentrations of groundwater seeps in the Catskill Mountains, New York, U.S.A.