Multi-scale measurements and modeling of denitrification in streams with varying flow and nitrate concentration in the upper Mississippi River basin, USA
Denitrification is an important net sink for NO3− in streams, but direct measurements are limited and in situ controlling factors are not well known. We measured denitrification at multiple scales over a range of flow conditions and NO3− concentrations in streams draining agricultural land in the upper Mississippi River basin. Comparisons of reach-scale measurements (in-stream mass transport and tracer tests) with local-scale in situ measurements (pore-water profiles, benthic chambers) and laboratory data (sediment core microcosms) gave evidence for heterogeneity in factors affecting benthic denitrification both temporally (e.g., seasonal variation in NO3− concentrations and loads, flood-related disruption and re-growth of benthic communities and organic deposits) and spatially (e.g., local stream morphology and sediment characteristics). When expressed as vertical denitrification flux per unit area of streambed (Udenit, in μmol N m−2 h−1), results of different methods for a given set of conditions commonly were in agreement within a factor of 2–3. At approximately constant temperature (~20 ± 4°C) and with minimal benthic disturbance, our aggregated data indicated an overall positive relation between Udenit (~0–4,000 μmol N m−2 h−1) and stream NO3−concentration (~20–1,100 μmol L−1) representing seasonal variation from spring high flow (high NO3−) to late summer low flow (low NO3−). The temporal dependence of Udenit on NO3−was less than first-order and could be described about equally well with power-law or saturation equations (e.g., for the unweighted dataset, Udenit ≈26 * [NO3−]0.44 or Udenit≈640 * [NO3−]/[180 + NO3−]; for a partially weighted dataset, Udenit ≈14 * [NO3−]0.54 or Udenit ≈700 * [NO3−]/[320 + NO3−]). Similar parameters were derived from a recent spatial comparison of stream denitrification extending to lower NO3− concentrations (LINX2), and from the combined dataset from both studies over 3 orders of magnitude in NO3−concentration. Hypothetical models based on our results illustrate: (1) Udenit was inversely related to denitrification rate constant (k1denit, in day−1) and vertical transfer velocity (vf,denit, in m day−1) at seasonal and possibly event time scales; (2) although k1denit was relatively large at low flow (low NO3−), its impact on annual loads was relatively small because higher concentrations and loads at high flow were not fully compensated by increases in Udenit; and (3) although NO3− assimilation and denitrification were linked through production of organic reactants, rates of NO3− loss by these processes may have been partially decoupled by changes in flow and sediment transport. Whereas k1denit and vf,denit are linked implicitly with stream depth, NO3− concentration, and(or) NO3− load, estimates of Udenit may be related more directly to field factors (including NO3− concentration) affecting denitrification rates in benthic sediments. Regional regressions and simulations of benthic denitrification in stream networks might be improved by including a non-linear relation between Udenit and stream NO3−concentration and accounting for temporal variation.
Additional publication details
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Title||Multi-scale measurements and modeling of denitrification in streams with varying flow and nitrate concentration in the upper Mississippi River basin, USA|
|Contributing office(s)||Branch of Regional Research-Eastern Region, Toxic Substances Hydrology Program|