Main content area

A comparison of forest and agricultural shallow groundwater chemical status a century after land use change

Kellner, Elliott, Hubbart, Jason A., Ikem, Abua
The Science of the total environment 2015 v.529 pp. 82-90
aquatic ecosystems, arsenic, cadmium, calcium, carbon, cobalt, copper, electrical conductivity, groundwater, hardwood forests, humans, hydrochemistry, land use change, magnesium, molybdenum, nickel, nitrates, nitrogen, nutrients, pH, potassium, sodium, statistical analysis, sulfur, titanium, total dissolved solids, water quality
Considering the increasing pace of global land use change and the importance of groundwater quality to humans and aquatic ecosystems, studies are needed that relate land use types to patterns of groundwater chemical composition. Piezometer grids were installed in a remnant bottomland hardwood forest (BHF) and a historic agricultural field (Ag) to compare groundwater chemical composition between sites with contrasting land use histories. Groundwater was sampled monthly from June 2011 to June 2013, and analyzed for 50 physiochemical metrics. Statistical tests indicated significant differences (p<0.05) between the study sites for 32 out of 50 parameters. Compared to the Ag site, BHF groundwater was characterized by significantly (p<0.05) lower pH, higher electrical conductivity, and higher concentrations of total dissolved solids and inorganic carbon. BHF groundwater contained significantly (p<0.05) higher concentrations of all nitrogen species except nitrate, which was higher in Ag groundwater. BHF groundwater contained significantly (p<0.05) higher concentrations of nutrients such as sulfur, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium, relative to the Ag site. Ag groundwater was characterized by significantly (p<0.05) higher concentrations of trace elements such as arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, copper, molybdenum, nickel, and titanium. Comparison of shallow groundwater chemical composition with that of nearby receiving water suggests that subsurface concentration patterns are the result of contrasting site hydrology and vegetation. Results detail impacts of surface vegetation alteration on subsurface chemistry and groundwater quality, thereby illustrating land use impacts on the lithosphere and hydrosphere. This study is among the first to comprehensively characterize and compare shallow groundwater chemical composition at sites with contrasting land use histories.