Uncertainties surrounding nitrogen cycling complicate assessments of the environmental effects of nitrogen use and our understanding of the global carbon–nitrogen cycle. In this paper, we synthesize data from 877 ambient-monitoring wells across the US to frame broad patterns of nitrogen speciation and trends. At these sites, groundwater frequently contains substantial co-occurring NO3− and XSN2 (N2 from denitrification), reflecting active/ongoing denitrification and/or a mixture of undenitrified and denitrified groundwater. NO3− and NH4+ essentially do not co-occur, indicating that the dominant source of NH4+ at these sites likely is not dissimilatory reduction of NO3− to NH4+. Positive correlations of NH4+ with apparent age, CH4, dissolved organic carbon, and indicators of reduced conditions are consistent with NH4+ mobilization from degradation of aquifer organic matter and contraindicate an anthropogenic source of NH4+ for most sites. Glacial aquifers and eastern sand and gravel aquifers generally have lower proportions of NO3− and greater proportions of XSN2 than do fractured rock and karst aquifers and western sand and gravel aquifers. NO3− dominates in the youngest groundwater, but XSN2 increases as residence time increases. Temporal patterns of nitrogen speciation and concentration reflect (1) changing NO3− loads over time, (2) groundwater residence-time controls on NH4+ mobilization from solid phases, and (3) groundwater residence-time controls on denitrification. A simple classification tree using readily available variables (a national coverage of soil water depth, generalized geology) or variables reasonably estimated in many aquifers (residence time) identifies categorical denitrification extent (<10%, 10–50%, and >50%) with 79% accuracy in an independent testing set, demonstrating a predictive application based on the interconnected effects of redox, geology, and residence time.
Additional publication details
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Title||Nitrogen speciation and trends, and prediction of denitrification extent, in shallow US groundwater|
|Series title||Journal of Hydrology|
|Contributing office(s)||Oregon Water Science Center|
|Online Only (Y/N)||N|
|Additional Online Files (Y/N)||N|