Stable isotopes of carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and sulfur (S) in nitrogen sources and nearby samples of topsoil, subsoil, runoff water, and stream water were measured to evaluate the feasibility of using isotopic data to identify nitrogen sources in stream water from forested, agricultural, or suburban land-use areas. Chemical and isotopic compositions were measured for six N-source types consisting of rain water, forest-leaf litter, synthetic fertilizer, farm-animal manure, municipal-sewage effluent and sludge, and septic-tank effluent and sludge. Compositions of topsoil, subsoil, runoff water, and stream water were measured to evaluate changes in compositions of transported N-containing materials near the N source. Animal manure, human waste (sewage plus septic), and forest-leaf litter can be distinguished on the basis of C; however, most N-sources can not be distinguished on the basis of N and S, owing to wide ranges of compositions and overlap among different N-source types. Although values of N for soil and runoff-water samples are qualitatively similar to those of the applied N source, values of C and S for runoff-water and stream-water samples appear to reflect the compositions of relatively large reservoirs of the elements in soil organic matter and minerals, respectively, and not the composition of the applied N source. Because of incomplete chemical transfor- mations, the ratio of organic carbon to total nitrogen for particulates in runoff or stream waters generally is lower than that for associated, nearby soils, and isotopic compositions commonly differ between particulate and dissolved fractions in the water.
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USGS Numbered Series
Use of stable isotopes of carbon, nitrogen, and sulfer to identify sources of nitrogen in surface waters in the Lower Susquehanna River basin, Pennsylvania