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Isotopic evidence of nitrate sources and its transformations in a human-impacted watershed

Ding, Jingtao, Xi, Beidou, Xu, Qigong, Meng, Haibo, Shen, Yujun, Cheng, Hongsheng
Environmental science 2019 v.21 no.3 pp. 575-583
anions, climate, denitrification, dry season, environmental management, lakes, monsoon season, nitrates, nitrification, nitrogen, oxygen, pollution load, rivers, seasonal variation, sewage, soil temperature, stable isotopes, uncertainty, water quality, water temperature, watersheds, wet season
The considerable spatial and temporal variabilities of nitrogen (N) processing introduce large uncertainties for quantifying N cycles on a large scale, particularly in plain river network regions with complicated hydrographic connections and mixed multiple N sources. In this paper, the dual isotopes δ¹⁵N and δ¹⁸O and dissolved anions in regularly collected samples (n = 10) from the studied river, which is one of the most seriously polluted rivers in the plain river network regions of the Taihu Lake catchment, were analyzed to ascertain the main nitrate (NO₃⁻) sources and watershed N processing in the context of monsoon climate. The seasonal variations in precipitation, temperature, and hydrology play key roles in the regulation of the river NO₃⁻ concentration, NO₃⁻ sources, and watershed N processing. Nitrification of N-containing materials in the soil was possibly the major source of NO₃⁻ all year round, especially in the rainy season, whereas manure and sewage significantly contributed to the NO₃⁻ load in the Taige River in the dry season. Nitrification and denitrification processes within the area were closely related. The significant negative relationship between the water temperature and δ¹⁸O–NO₃⁻ values indicated the occurrence of nitrification in the soil throughout the year. By contrast, seasonal variations of denitrification were apparent from May to July with the high soil temperature and moisture, thereby indicating the occurrence of denitrification (22.9%) within the watershed. After the assessment of temporal variations of NO₃⁻ sources and watershed N processing, improved environmental management practices can be implemented to protect water resources and prevent further water quality deterioration in human-impacted watersheds.