Assessment of sources and fate of nitrate in shallow groundwater of an agricultural area by using a multi-tracer approach

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Abstract

Nitrate isotopic values are often used as a tool to understand sources of contamination in order to effectively manage groundwater quality. However, recent literature describes that biogeochemical reactions may modify these values. Therefore, data interpretation is difficult and often vague. We provide a discussion on this topic and complement the study using halides as comparative tracers assessing an aquifer underneath a sub-humid to humid region in NE Mexico. Hydrogeological information and stable water isotopes indicate that active groundwater recharge occurs in the 8000km2 study area under present-day climatic and hydrologic conditions. Nitrate isotopes and halide ratios indicate a diverse mix of nitrate sources and transformations. Nitrate sources include organic waste and wastewater, synthetic fertilizers and soil processes. Animal manure and sewage from septic tanks were the causes of groundwater nitrate pollution within orchards and vegetable agriculture. Dairy activities within a radius of 1000m from a sampling point significantly contributed to nitrate pollution. Leachates from septic tanks caused nitrate pollution in residential areas. Soil nitrogen and animal waste were the sources of nitrate in groundwater under shrubland and grassland. Partial denitrification processes helped to attenuate nitrate concentration underneath agricultural lands and grassland, especially during summer months. © 2013 The Authors.

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Pastén-Zapata, E., Ledesma-Ruiz, R., Harter, T., Ramírez, A. I., & Mahlknecht, J. (2014). Assessment of sources and fate of nitrate in shallow groundwater of an agricultural area by using a multi-tracer approach. Science of the Total Environment, 470471, 855–864. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2013.10.043

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