, Volume 96, Issue 1-3, pp 189-208

Nitrification and denitrification in a midwestern stream containing high nitrate: in situ assessment using tracers in dome-shaped incubation chambers

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Abstract

The extent to which in-stream processes alter or remove nutrient loads in agriculturally impacted streams is critically important to watershed function and the delivery of those loads to coastal waters. In this study, patch-scale rates of in-stream benthic processes were determined using large volume, open-bottom benthic incubation chambers in a nitrate-rich, first to third order stream draining an area dominated by tile-drained row-crop fields. The chambers were fitted with sampling/mixing ports, a volume compensation bladder, and porewater samplers. Incubations were conducted with added tracers (NaBr and either 15N[NO3 ], 15N[NO2 ], or 15N[NH4 +]) for 24–44 h intervals and reaction rates were determined from changes in concentrations and isotopic compositions of nitrate, nitrite, ammonium and nitrogen gas. Overall, nitrate loss rates (220–3,560 μmol N m−2 h−1) greatly exceeded corresponding denitrification rates (34–212 μmol N m−2 h−1) and both of these rates were correlated with nitrate concentrations (90–1,330 μM), which could be readily manipulated with addition experiments. Chamber estimates closely matched whole-stream rates of denitrification and nitrate loss using 15N. Chamber incubations with acetylene indicated that coupled nitrification/denitrification was not a major source of N2 production at ambient nitrate concentrations (175 μM), but acetylene was not effective for assessing denitrification at higher nitrate concentrations (1,330 μM). Ammonium uptake rates greatly exceeded nitrification rates, which were relatively low even with added ammonium (3.5 μmol N m−2 h−1), though incubations with nitrite demonstrated that oxidation to nitrate exceeded reduction to nitrogen gas in the surface sediments by fivefold to tenfold. The chamber results confirmed earlier studies that denitrification was a substantial nitrate sink in this stream, but they also indicated that dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) turnover rates greatly exceeded the rates of permanent nitrogen removal via denitrification.