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Triple oxygen isotopic evidence for atmospheric nitrate and its application in source identification for river systems in the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau

Xia, Xinghui, Li, Siling, Wang, Fan, Zhang, Sibo, Fang, Yunting, Li, Jianghanyang, Michalski, Greg, Zhang, Liwei
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.688 pp. 270-280
altitude, animal manures, atmospheric deposition, atmospheric precipitation, climatic factors, mineral fertilizers, models, nitrates, oxygen, ozone, rivers, sewage, soil organic nitrogen, stable isotopes, temperature, troposphere, uncertainty, water quality, China, Yangtze River, Yellow River
Nitrate source identification in river systems is important for water quality management. Recently, the oxygen isotopic anomaly of nitrate in atmospheric deposition (Δ17Oatm) is used to identify unprocessed atmospheric nitrate in river systems to reduce the uncertainty caused by the wide range of δ18O. In high-elevation regions, such as the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (QTP) featured with lower temperature and pressure as well as strong radiation, the Δ17Oatm might be different from that in low-elevation regions, but no relevant studies have been reported. In this work, Δ17Oatm in the QTP was studied, and the fingerprints of nitrate isotopes in synthetic fertilizer, livestock manure, domestic sewage, and soil organic nitrogen (SON) were identified and used to quantify various source contributions to riverine nitrate in the Yellow River and Changjiang River source regions located in the QTP during 2016–2017. The results showed that the average of Δ17Oatm in the QTP was 16.4‰, lower than the range (19–30‰) reported for the low-elevation regions. The possible mechanism is decreased O3 as well as increased hydroxyl and peroxy radical levels in the troposphere caused by the climate condition and ozone valley in the QTP will affect the production pathways of atmospheric nitrate. By combining the sewage discharge data with the output results of the SIAR (stable isotope analysis in R) model based on the stable isotope data, manure was determined to be one of the major sources to riverine nitrate for both rivers. The contributions of various sources to riverine nitrate were 47 ± 10% for manure, 30 ± 5% for SON, 10 ± 4% for atmospheric precipitation, 9 ± 2% for synthetic fertilizer, and 4 ± 0% for sewage in the Yellow River source region. This study indicates that the unique atmospheric conditions in the QTP have led to a lower Δ17Oatm value, and atmospheric source makes a considerable contribution to riverine nitrate in the QTP.