Groundwater Head Control of Catchment Nitrate Export

Monday, 15 December 2014: 3:10 PM
Andreas Musolff1, Christian Schmidt1, Michael Rode2 and Jan H Fleckenstein1, (1)Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ, Leipzig, Germany, (2)Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research UFZ, Magdeburg, Germany
Elevated nutrient fluxes from agricultural catchments affect downstream water resources. A method to assess nutrient fluxes is the evaluation of the export regime. The export regime classifies the relation between concentration and discharge and integrates mobilization as well as retention processes. Solutes can be exported chemostatically (variance of concentration << variance of discharge) or chemodynamically (variance of concentration ≥ variance of discharge). Starting point of this study is the evaluation of export regimes of nitrate in a series of neighboring sub-catchments of the Central German River Bode catchment. We found an accretion pattern of nitrate with increasing concentration when discharge is increasing and thus a chemodynamic export regime. Here we follow a nested approach and have a closer look at the controls of nitrate export in the small (1.4 km2) headwater catchment of the Sauerbach stream. The Sauerbach catchment is dominated by agricultural land use and is characterized by tile drains. We hypothesize that discharge as well as nitrate export is controlled by the groundwater head variability over time. To that end we follow a joint data analysis of discharge, groundwater heads and nitrate concentrations in groundwater, tile drains and surface water. At the gauging station the nitrate export is chemodynamic exhibiting the typical accretion pattern also found at the larger scale. Our data analysis shows that nitrate export regime is in two ways controlled by the depth to groundwater and the groundwater head variability: Discharge increases with increasing groundwater heads due to the activation of tile drains. On the other hand, depth to groundwater and passage through the unsaturated zone is the major control of aquifer nitrate concentration. At wells with larger depth to groundwater nitrate concentrations are significantly lower than at more shallow wells indicating retention processes in the unsaturated zone. Therefore the concentration in the stream increases with increasing heads since the activated tiles drain shallow groundwater with higher nitrate concentrations. We can thus show that the export regime of nitrate provides insight into the spatial relation of discharge producing zones and nitrate source zones within a catchment.