Denitrification was measured within a nitrate-contaminated aquifer on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, using natural gradient tracer tests with 15N nitrate. The aquifer contained zones of relatively high concentrations of nitrite (up to 77 ??M) and nitrous oxide (up to 143 ??M) and has been the site of previous studies examining ground water denitrification using the acetylene block technique. Small-scale (15-24 m travel distance) tracer tests were conducted by injecting 15N nitrate and bromide as tracers into a depth interval that contained nitrate, nitrite, nitrous oxide, and excess nitrogen gas. The timing of the bromide breakthrough curves at down-gradient wells matched peaks in 15N abundance above background for nitrate, nitrite, nitrous oxide, and nitrogen gas after more than 40 days of travel. Results were simulated with a one-dimensional transport model using linked reaction kinetics for the individual steps of the denitrification reaction pathway. It was necessary to include within the model spatial variations in background concentrations of all nitrogen oxide species. The model indicated that nitrite production (0.036-0.047 ??mol N (L aquifer)-1 d -1) was faster than the subsequent denitrification steps (0.013-0.016 ??mol N (L aquifer)-1 d-1 for nitrous oxide and 0.013-0.020 ??mol N (L aquifer)-1 d-1 for nitrogen gas) and that the total rate of reaction was slower than indicated by both acetylene block tracer tests and laboratory incubations. The rate of nitrate removal by denitrification was much slower than the rate of transport, indicating that nitrate would migrate several kilometers down-gradient before being completely consumed.
Additional publication details
Assessing denitrification in groundwater using natural gradient tracer tests with 15N: In situ measurement of a sequential multistep reaction