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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2020-58
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2020-58
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 17 Mar 2020

Submitted as: research article | 17 Mar 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal HESS.

Irrigation return flow causing a nitrate hot spot and denitrification imprints in groundwater at Tinwald, New Zealand

Michael Kilgour Stewart1 and Philippa Lauren Aitchison-Earl2 Michael Kilgour Stewart and Philippa Lauren Aitchison-Earl
  • 1Aquifer Dynamics and GNS Science, PO Box 30 368, Lower Hutt 5040, New Zealand
  • 2Environment Canterbury, PO Box 345, Christchurch 8011, New Zealand

Abstract. Tinwald groundwater exhibits two features stemming from irrigation with local groundwater (i.e. irrigation return flow). The first is increased concentrations of nitrate (and other chemicals and stable isotopes) in a hot spot around Tinwald. The chemical concentrations of the groundwater are increased by recirculation of water already relatively high in chemicals. The irrigation return flow coefficient C (irrigation return flow/irrigation flow) is found to be consistent with the chemical enrichments. The stable isotopes of the groundwater show a similar pattern of enrichment by irrigation return flow of up to 40 % and are also enriched by evaporation (causing loss of about 20 % of the original water mass). Management implications are that irrigation return flow needs to be taken into account in modelling of nitrate transport through soil/groundwater systems and in avoiding overuse of nitrate fertilizer leading to greater leaching of nitrate to the groundwater and unnecessary economic cost. The second feature is the presence of denitrification imprints (shown by enrichment of the δ15N and δ18ONO3 values of nitrate) in even relatively oxic groundwaters. The denitrification imprints can be clearly seen because (apart from denitrification) the nitrate has a blended isotopic composition due to irrigation return flow and N being retained in the soil-plant system as organic-N. The nitrate concentration and isotopic compositions of nitrate are found to be correlated with dissolved oxygen concentration. This denitrification imprint is attributed to localised denitrification in fine pores or small-scale physical heterogeneity where conditions are reducing. The implication is that denitrification could be occurring where it is not expected because groundwater DO concentrations are not low.

Michael Kilgour Stewart and Philippa Lauren Aitchison-Earl

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Michael Kilgour Stewart and Philippa Lauren Aitchison-Earl

Michael Kilgour Stewart and Philippa Lauren Aitchison-Earl

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Short summary
This paper is important for water resource management, being concerned with irrigation return flow causing (1) hot spots of enhanced nitrate in groundwater, and (2) nitrate reduction in groundwater where dissolved oxygen concentrations are not low. The work is highly significant for modelling of nitrate transport through soil/groundwater systems, for understanding denitrification processes in the vadose/groundwater domain, and for management of fertilizer application to land.
This paper is important for water resource management, being concerned with irrigation return...
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