Nitrate in streams during winter low‐flow conditions as an indicator of legacy nitrate

Water Resources Research
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Abstract

Winter low‐flow (LF) conditions in streams provide a potential opportunity to evaluate the importance of legacy nitrate in catchments due to the dominance of slow‐flow transport pathways and lowered biotic activity. In this study, the concentration, flux, and trend of nitrate in streams during winter low‐flow conditions were analyzed at 320 sites in the conterminous United States. LF flow‐normalized nitrate concentrations varied from <0.1 to >20 mg‐N L‐1 and LF conditions contributed between 2% and 98% of the winter nitrate flux. LF nitrate concentrations generally exceeded 2.5 mg‐N L‐1 in the upper Midwest, with smaller regions of high LF nitrate concentrations in eastern Texas and along the northern mid‐Atlantic coast. Groundwater was inferred to be the primary or sole contributor of nitrate to streams during winter LF conditions at 140 of our 320 sites. Among these 140 sites, nitrate from groundwater comprised 45% or more of the winter nitrate flux at a quarter of the sites. Among the same 140 sites, concentrations of nitrate in streams during winter LF conditions generally increased between 2002 and 2012 at sites where 40% or more of the winter flux was from groundwater, suggesting that concentrations of nitrate in the contributing groundwater system were increasing. Using metrics developed herein, we characterize the potential importance of legacy nitrate at sites in this study and discuss methods to characterize sites with fewer samples than required by our models or at sites without continuous stream discharge measurements.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Nitrate in streams during winter low‐flow conditions as an indicator of legacy nitrate
Series title Water Resources Research
DOI 10.1029/2019WR026996
Volume 56
Issue 11
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher American Geophysical Union
Contributing office(s) Oregon Water Science Center
Description e2019WR026996, 19 p.
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