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The interplay between transport and reaction rates as controls on nitrate attenuation in permeable, streambed sediments

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>06/2015
<mark>Journal</mark>Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number6
Volume120
Number of pages17
Pages (from-to)1093-1109
Publication statusPublished
Early online date14/05/15
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Anthropogenic nitrogen fixation and subsequent use of this nitrogen as fertilizer has greatly disturbed the global nitrogen cycle. Rivers are recognized hotspots of nitrogen removal in the landscape as interaction between surface water and sediments creates heterogeneous redox environments conducive for nitrogen transformations. Our understanding of riverbed nitrogen dynamics to date comes mainly from shallow sediments or hyporheic exchange flow pathways with comparatively little attention paid to groundwater-fed, gaining reaches. We have used 15N techniques to quantify in situ rates of nitrate removal to 1m depth within a groundwater-fed riverbed where subsurface hydrology ranged from strong upwelling to predominantly horizontal water fluxes. We combine these rates with detailed hydrologic measurements to investigate the interplay between biogeochemical activity and water transport in controlling nitrogen attenuation along upwelling flow pathways. Nitrate attenuation occurred via denitrification rather than dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium or anammox (range = 12 to >17000 nmol 15N L-1 h-1). Overall, nitrate removal within the upwelling groundwater was controlled by water flux rather than reaction rate (i.e. Damköhler numbers < 1) with the exception of two hotspots of biogeochemical activity. Deep sediments were as important a nitrate sink as shallow sediments with fast rates of denitrification and short water residence time close to the riverbed surface balanced by slower rates of denitrification and water flux at depth. Within this permeable riverbed >80% of nitrate removal occurs within sediments not exposed to hyporheic exchange flows under baseflow conditions, illustrating the importance of deep sediments as nitrate sinks in upwelling systems.

Bibliographic note

Acceptance date is on publishers final version. ©2015. The Authors. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.