Increased concentrations of nitrate in groundwater in agricultural areas, coinciding with increased use of chemical and organic fertilizers, have raised concern because of risks to environmental and human health. At some sites, these problems are mitigated by natural attenuation of nitrate as a result of microbially mediated reactions. Results from U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) research under the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program show that reactions of dissolved nitrate with solid aquifer minerals and organic carbon help lower nitrate concentrations in groundwater beneath agricultural fields. However, increased fluxes of nitrate cause ongoing depletion of the finite pool of solid reactants. Consumption of the solid reactants diminishes the capacity of the aquifer to remove nitrate, calling into question the long-term sustainability of these natural attenuation processes.
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USGS Numbered Series
Sustainability of natural attenuation of nitrate in agricultural aquifers