Geosciences Journal

, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 81–87 | Cite as

Evaluation of contamination sources of groundwater NO3 using nitrogen isotope data: A review

  • Woo-Jung Choi
  • Sang-Mo LeeEmail author
  • Hee-Myong Ro


It has been accepted that variations in stable N isotope ratios (15N/14N) can potentially provide useful, sometimes unique, information on the sources of nitrate in groundwater, because N isotope compositions are generally different among various N pools such as atmospheric N2, soil, chemical fertilizer, and manure. However, this review strongly suggests that interpretation of the nitrate source based on a single measurement of δ15N may not be accurate because the isotopic composition of groundwater nitrate is a function of its source and any isotope fractionation that may occur during its generation or transport to groundwater. This review, therefore, shows that to evaluate the nitrate contamination source using δ15N technique, it is more reasonable to use correlation between the concentrations and δ15N of NO3 . For example, a positive correlation indicates15N-enriched source such as manure, while15N-depleted source results in a negative correlation. The correlation analysis can also be used in evaluation of denitrification and nitrification. Denitrification is a key process affecting δ15N of NO3 , i.e. if significant amount of nitrate is removed through denitrification, it is not easy to discriminate fertilizer-derived nitrate from manure-or compost-derived one because denitrification increase the δ15N of the remaining NO3 . Therefore, it is important to assess whether denitrification may be occurring or not when evaluating isotope data on nitrate. By using dual (δ15N air and δ18O vsmow ) isotopic indicators, denitrification can be evaluated more accurately.

Key words

contamination source groundwater isotopic fractionation nitrate nitrogen isotope composition 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Agricultural BiotechnologySeoul National UniversitySuwonKorea
  2. 2.National Instrumentation Center for Environmental ManagementSeoul National UniversitySuwonKorea

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