Landscape Ecology

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 237–255

A GIS-based index for relating landscape characteristics to potential nitrogen leaching to wetlands

  • Karen A. Poiani
  • Barbara L. Bedford
  • Michael D. Merrill


We developed a spatially-explicit, quantitative Nitrogen Leaching Index to assess the potential for non-point source subsurface nitrogen pollution to wetlands. The index was based on the leaching potential of the watershed soils, the amount of nitrogen available for leaching, and the spatial position of nitrogen sources in the watershed. A raster or cell-based geographic information system (GIS) was used to estimate the necessary data inputs for calculating the index, such as soil hydrologic group, land use/soil type combination, groundwater residence time, and location of septic systems. The Total and Average Watershed Nitrogen Leaching Index (TWNLI and AWNLI) were calculated by summing and averaging, respectively, individual cell contributions over a watershed.

Analysis of nine wetland watersheds in central New York state, USA, with mixed forest and agricultural land uses illustrated the use of the index for identifying and ranking wetlands with potential nitrogen pollution. Results showed that the spatial characteristics of a watershed potentially can effect subsurface nitrogen delivery to groundwater-dominated wetlands. The use of an index based on watershed soils, topography, and land use may be useful for assessing potential nitrogen pollution to wetlands at a regional scale.


wetlands non-point source pollution nitrogen watershed leaching geographic information system landscape groundwater 


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Copyright information

© SPB Academic Publishing 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karen A. Poiani
    • 1
  • Barbara L. Bedford
    • 2
  • Michael D. Merrill
    • 3
  1. 1.Center for the EnvironmentCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Natural ResourcesCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  3. 3.Department of Agricultural and Biological EngineeringCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  4. 4.The Nature ConservancyMinneapolisUSA

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