Hydrological controls on nutrient concentrations and fluxes in agricultural catchments

C. Petry, Christopher Soulsby, I. Malcolm, R. Malcolm, A. Youngson

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93 Citations (Scopus)


Like many streams draining intensively farmed parts of lowland Scotland, water quality in the Newmills burn, Aberdeenshire, is characterized by relatively high nutrient levels; mean concentrations of NO3-N and NH3-N are 6.09 mg l(-1) and 0.28 mg l(-1), respectively, whilst average PO4-P concentrations reach 0.06 mg l(-1). Nutrient concentrations vary spatially and temporally with levels being highest under arable farming during the autumn and winter. Annual fluxes from the 14.5 km(2) catchment are estimated at 25.67 and 1.26 kg ha(-1) a(-1) for NO3-N and NH3-N, respectively, and 0.26 kg ha(-1) a(-1) for PO,-P. Hydrological controls exert a strong influence on both nutrient concentrations and fluxes. Over short timescales nutrient concentrations and fluxes are greatest during storm events when PO4-P and NH3-N are mobilized by overland flow in riparian areas, particularly where the soils have been compacted by livestock or farm machinery. Delivery of deeper soil water in subsurface storm flow, facilitated by agricultural under-drainage, provide large contributions of NO3-N on the recession limb of hydrological events. In contrast, groundwater inputs generally have lower NO3 concentrations implying that denitrification may be a pathway of N loss in the saturated zone. Approximately 75% of the N loss for the catchment occurs during the autumn and early winter when high flows dominate the hydrological regime. The close coupling of hydrological pathways and biogeochemical processes has major implications for catchment management strategies such as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) as it is likely that significant groundwater stores with long residence times will continue to cause N losses before water quality improvements become apparent. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-110
Number of pages15
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number1-3
Publication statusPublished - 2002


  • nutrients
  • hydrology
  • nitrate
  • phosphate
  • mixing models
  • ZONE
  • DEE


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