Nitrogen transport and groundwater-surface water interactions were examined in a coastal plain watershed in the southeastern United States. Groundwater age dates, calculated using chlorofluorocarbon and tritium concentrations, along with concentrations of nitrogen species and other redox-active constituents, were used to evaluate the fate and transport of nitrate. Nitrate is stable only in recently recharged (<10 years) water found in the upper few meters of saturated thickness in the upland portion of a surficial aquifer. Groundwater with a residence time between 10 and 30 years typically has low nitrate and elevated excess N2 concentrations, indications that denitrification has reduced nitrate concentrations. Groundwater older than 30 years also has low nitrate concentrations but contains little or no excess N2, suggesting that this water did not contain elevated concentrations of nitrate along its flow path. Nitrate transport to streams varies between first- and third-order streams. Hydrologic, lithologic, and chemical data suggest that the surficial aquifer is the dominant source of flow and nitrate to a first-order stream. Iron-reducing conditions occur in groundwater samples from the bed and banks of the first-order stream, suggesting that direct groundwater discharge is denitrified prior to entering the stream. However, nitrogen from the surficial aquifer is transported directly to the stream via a tile drain that bypasses these reduced zones. In the alluvial valley of a third-order stream the erosion of a confining layer creates a much thicker unconfined alluvial aquifer with larger zones of nitrate stability. Age dating and chemical information (SiO 2, Na/K ratios) suggest that water in the alluvial aquifer is derived from short flow paths through the riparian zone and/or from adjacent streams during high-discharge periods. Copyright 2005 by the American Geophysical Union.
Additional publication details
Nitrogen transport and transformations in a coastal plain watershed: Influence of geomorphology on flow paths and residence times