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What do we need to predict groundwater nitrate recovery trajectories?

Abstract : Nitrate contamination affects many of the Earth’s aquifers and surface waters. Large-scale predictions of groundwater nitrate trends normally require the characterization of multiple anthropic and natural factors. To assess different approaches for upscaling estimates of nitrate recovery, we tested the influence of hydrological, historical, and biological factors on predictions of future nitrate concentration in aquifers. We tested the factors with a rich hydrogeological dataset from a heterogeneously fractured bedrock catchment in western France. A sensitivity analysis performed on a calibrated model of groundwater flow, denitrification, and nitrogen inputs revealed that trends in nitrate concentration can effectively be approximated with a limited number of key parameters. The total mass of nitrate that entered the aquifer since the beginning of the industrial period needs to be characterized, but the shape of the historical nitrogen input time series can be largely simplified without substantially altering the predictions. Aquifer flow and transport processes can be represented by the mean and standard deviation of the residence time distribution, offering a tractable scaling tool to make reasonable predictions at watershed or regional scales. Apparent sensitivity to denitrification rate was primarily attributable to time lags in oxygen depletion, meaning that denitrification can be simplified to an ON/OFF process, defined only by the time needed to transfer nitrate to the hypoxic reactive layer. Obtaining these key-parameters at large scales is still challenging with currently available information, but the results are promising regarding our future ability to predict nitrate concentration with integrated monitoring and modeling approaches.
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https://hal-insu.archives-ouvertes.fr/insu-03224195
Contributor : Isabelle Dubigeon <>
Submitted on : Tuesday, May 11, 2021 - 2:39:18 PM
Last modification on : Wednesday, June 9, 2021 - 2:44:02 PM

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Camille Vautier, Tamara Kolbe, Tristan Babey, Jean Marçais, Benjamin Abbott, et al.. What do we need to predict groundwater nitrate recovery trajectories?. Science of the Total Environment, Elsevier, inPress, pp.147661. ⟨10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.147661⟩. ⟨insu-03224195⟩

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