, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 285-310

Hyporheic zone hydrology and nitrogen dynamics in relation to the streambed topography of a N-rich stream

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The influence of riffle-pool units on hyporheic zone hydrology and nitrogen dynamics was investigated in Brougham Creek, a N-rich agricultural stream in Ontario, Canada. Subsurface hydraulic gradients, differences in background stream and groundwater concentrations of conservative ions, and the movement of a bromide tracer indicated the downwelling of stream water at the head of riffles and upwelling in riffle-pool transitions under base flow conditions. Channel water also flowed laterally into the floodplain at the upstream end of riffles and followed a subsurface concentric flow path for distances of up to 20 m before returning to the stream at the transition from riffles to pools. Differences in observed vs predicted concentrations based on background chloride patterns indicated that the hyporheic zone was a sink for nitrate and a source for ammonium. The removal of nitrate in the streambed was confirmed by the loss of nitrate in relation to co-injected bromide in areas of downwelling stream water in two riffles. Average stream water nitrate-N concentrations of 1.0 mg/L were often depleted to <0.005 mg/L near the sediment-water interface. Consequently, an extensive volume of the hyporheic zone in the streambed and floodplain had a large unused potential for nitrate removal. Conceptual models based mainly on studies of streams with low nutrient concentrations have emphasized the extent of surface-subsurface exchanges and water residence times in the hyporheic zone as important controls on stream nutrient retention. In contrast, we suggest that nitrate retention in N-rich streams is influenced more by the size of surface water storage zones which increase the residence time of channel water in contact with the major sites of rapid nitrate depletion adjacent to the sediment-water interface.