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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-198
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-198
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 17 May 2019

Submitted as: research article | 17 May 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. A revision of the manuscript is under review for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS).

Continuous in-situ monitoring of nitrate concentration in soils – a key for groundwater protection from nitrate pollution

Elad Yeshno1, Shlomi Arnon2, and Ofer Dahan1 Elad Yeshno et al.
  • 1Department of Hydrology & Microbiology, Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research, Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel
  • 2Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel

Abstract. Lack of real-time information on nutrient availability in cultivated soils inherently leads to excess application of fertilizers in agriculture. As a result, nitrate, which is a soluble, stable and mobile component of fertilizers, leaches below the root zone through the unsaturated zone and eventually pollutes the groundwater and other related water resources. Rising nitrate concentration in aquifers is recognized as a worldwide environmental problem that contributes to water scarcity. Accordingly, developing technologies for continuous in-situ measurement of nitrate concentration in the soils are essential for optimizing fertilizer application and preventing water resource pollution by nitrate. Here we present a conceptual approach for a monitoring system that enables in-situ and continuous measurement of nitrate concentration in soil. The monitoring system is based on absorbance spectroscopy techniques for direct determination of nitrate concentration in soil porewater without pretreatment, such as filtration, dilution, or reagent supplementation. A new analytical procedure was developed to improve measurement accuracy while eliminating the typical measurement interference caused by soil dissolved organic carbon. The analytical procedure was tested at four field sites over 2 years and proved to be an effective tool for nitrate analysis in untreated soil. A soil nitrate-monitoring apparatus, combining specially designed optical flow cells with soil porewater-sampling units, enabled for the first time, real-time continuous measurement of nitrate concentration in the soil. The system provided outstanding and explicit data revealing the complexities of the temporal variations in soil nitrate concentrations in response to irrigation cycles and fertilizer-application pattern. Such real-time measurements of soil nitrate levels are crucial for optimizing fertilizer application to increase agricultural yield while reducing the potential threat of groundwater contamination by down-leaching of nitrate from the soil.

Elad Yeshno et al.
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Short summary
Monitoring and controlling nutrient availability in agricultural soils is essential for optimizing plant growth and prevention of water resources pollution. On a global scale, most drinking-water well shutdowns are related to elevating nitrate concentration due to intensive agriculture. Thus, in-situ continuous measurement of nitrate in the soil is essential for maximizing the crop yield, optimizing the use of fertilizer, as well as reducing the potential for groundwater contamination.
Monitoring and controlling nutrient availability in agricultural soils is essential for...
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