Groundwater – The disregarded component in lake water and nutrient budgets. Part 2: effects of groundwater on nutrients

Hydrological Processes
By: , and 



Lacustrine groundwater discharge (LGD) transports nutrients from a catchment to a lake, which may fuel eutrophication, one of the major threats to our fresh waters. Unfortunately, LGD has often been disregarded in lake nutrient studies. Most measurement techniques are based on separate determinations of volume and nutrient concentration of LGD: Loads are calculated by multiplying seepage volumes by concentrations of exfiltrating water. Typically low phosphorus (P) concentrations of pristine groundwater often are increased due to anthropogenic sources such as fertilizer, manure or sewage. Mineralization of naturally present organic matter might also increase groundwater P. Reducing redox conditions favour P transport through the aquifer to the reactive aquifer-lake interface. In some cases, large decreases of P concentrations may occur at the interface, for example, due to increased oxygen availability, while in other cases, there is nearly no decrease in P. The high reactivity of the interface complicates quantification of groundwater-borne P loads to the lake, making difficult clear differentiation of internal and external P loads to surface water. Anthropogenic sources of nitrogen (N) in groundwater are similar to those of phosphate. However, the environmental fate of N differs fundamentally from P because N occurs in several different redox states, each with different mobility. While nitrate behaves essentially conservatively in most oxic aquifers, ammonium's mobility is similar to that of phosphate. Nitrate may be transformed to gaseous N2 in reducing conditions and permanently removed from the system. Biogeochemical turnover of N is common at the reactive aquifer-lake interface. Nutrient loads from LGD were compiled from the literature. Groundwater-borne P loads vary from 0.74 to 2900 mg PO4-P m−2 year−1; for N, these loads vary from 0.001 to 640 g m−2 year−1. Even small amounts of seepage can carry large nutrient loads due to often high nutrient concentrations in groundwater. Large spatial heterogeneity, uncertain areal extent of the interface and difficult accessibility make every determination of LGD a challenge. However, determinations of LGD are essential to effective lake management.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Groundwater – The disregarded component in lake water and nutrient budgets. Part 2: effects of groundwater on nutrients
Series title Hydrological Processes
DOI 10.1002/hyp.10384
Volume 29
Issue 13
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) National Research Program - Central Branch
Description 34 p.
First page 2922
Last page 2955
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