Water, Air, & Soil Pollution

, 224:1693

First online:

Quantification of In Situ Denitrification Rates in Groundwater Below an Arable and a Grassland System

  • M. M. R. JahangirAffiliated withTeagasc Environment Research Centre, Johnstown Castle EstateDepartment of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, Trinity CollegeDepartment of Soil Science, Bangladesh Agricultural University
  • , P. JohnstonAffiliated withDepartment of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, Trinity College
  • , K. AddyAffiliated withDepartment of Natural Resources Science, University of Rhode Island
  • , M. I. KhalilAffiliated withEnvironmental Protection Agency, Johnstown Castle Estate
  • , P. M. GroffmanAffiliated withCary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
  • , K. G. RichardsAffiliated withTeagasc Environment Research Centre, Johnstown Castle Estate Email author 

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Understanding denitrification rates in groundwater ecosystems can help predict where agricultural reactive nitrogen (N) contributes to environmental degradation. In situ groundwater denitrification rates were determined in subsoil, at the bedrock interface and in bedrock at two sites, grassland and arable, using an in situ ‘push–pull’ method with 15N-labelled nitrate (NO3 –N). Measured groundwater denitrification rates ranged from 1.3 to 469.5 μg N kg−1 day−1. Exceptionally high denitrification rates observed at the bedrock interface at grassland site (470 ± 152 μg N kg−1 day−1; SE, standard error) suggest that deep groundwater can serve as substantial hotspots for NO3 –N removal. However, denitrification rates at the other locations were low and may not substantially reduce NO3 –N delivery to surface waters. Denitrification rates were negatively correlated with ambient dissolved oxygen, redox potential, k s and NO3 (all p values, p < 0.01) and positively correlated with SO4 2− (p < 0.05). Higher mean N2O/(N2O + N2) ratios at an arable (0.28) site than the grassland (0.10) revealed that the arable site has higher potential to indirect N2O emissions. Identification of areas with high and low denitrification and related site parameters can be a tool to manage agricultural N to safeguard the environment.


Denitrification 15N-enrichment 15N–N2O 15N–N2 Groundwater N2O mole fraction