Environmental Geology

, Volume 55, Issue 3, pp 539–558 | Cite as

Correlation between nitrate concentration in groundwater and parameters affecting aquifer intrinsic vulnerability

  • Laura Debernardi
  • Domenico Antonio De Luca
  • Manuela LasagnaEmail author
Original Article


This paper is the result of a study which was carried out in order to verify if the traditional methods to evaluate the intrinsic vulnerability or vulnerability related parameters, are able to clarify the problem of nitrate pollution in groundwater. In particular, the aim was to evaluate limitations and problems connected to aquifer vulnerability methods applied to nitrate contamination prevision in groundwater. The investigation was carried out by comparing NO3 concentrations, measured in March and November 2004 in the shallow aquifer, and the vulnerability classes, obtained by using GOD and TOT methods. Moreover, it deals with a comparison between NO3 concentrations and single parameters (depth to water table, land use and nitrogen input). The study area is the plain sector of Piemonte (Northern Italy), where an unconfined aquifer nitrate contamination exists. In this area the anthropogenic presence is remarkable and the input of N-fertilizers and zootechnical effluents to the soil cause a growing amount of nitrates in groundwater. This approach, used in a large area (about 10,000 km2) and in several monitoring wells (about 500), allowed to compare the efficiency of different vulnerability methods and to verify the importance of every parameter on the nitrate concentrations in the aquifer. Furthermore it allowed to obtain interesting correlations in different hydrogeological situations. Correlations between depth to water table, land use and nitrogen input to the soil with nitrate concentrations in groundwater show unclear situations: in fact these comparisons describe the phenomenon trend and highlight the maximum nitrate concentrations for each circumstance but often show wide ranges of possible nitrate concentrations. The same situation could be observed by comparing vulnerability indexes and nitrate concentrations in groundwater. These results suggest that neither single parameters nor vulnerability methods (GOD and TOT) are able to describe individually the complex phenomena affecting nitrate concentrations in soil, subsoil and groundwater. In particular, the traditional methods for vulnerability analysis do not analyze physical processes in aquifers, such as denitrification and nitrate dilution. According to a recent study in the shallow unconfined aquifer of the Piemonte plain, dilution can be considered as the main cause for nitrate attenuation in groundwater.


Nitrate Shallow aquifer Intrinsic vulnerability Dilution Denitrification Depth to water table Land use Nitrogen input Italy 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laura Debernardi
    • 1
  • Domenico Antonio De Luca
    • 1
  • Manuela Lasagna
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Dipartimento di Scienze della TerraUniversità di TorinoTorinoItaly

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