, Volume 103, Issue 1–3, pp 91–107 | Cite as

Nitrate retention in a sand plains stream and the importance of groundwater discharge

  • Robert S. Stelzer
  • Damion R. Drover
  • Susan L. Eggert
  • Maureen A. Muldoon


We measured net nitrate retention by mass balance in a 700-m upwelling reach of a third-order sand plains stream, Emmons Creek, from January 2007 to November 2008. Surface water and groundwater fluxes of nitrate were determined from continuous records of discharge and from nitrate concentrations based on weekly and biweekly sampling at three surface water stations and in 23 in-stream piezometers, respectively. Surface water nitrate concentration in Emmons Creek was relatively high (mean of 2.25 mg NO3–N l−1) and exhibited strong seasonal variation. Net nitrate retention averaged 429 mg NO3–N m−2 d−1 and about 2% of nitrate inputs to the reach. Net nitrate retention was highest during the spring and autumn when groundwater discharge was elevated. Groundwater discharge explained 57–65% of the variation in areal net nitrate retention. Specific discharge and groundwater nitrate concentration varied spatially. Weighting groundwater solute concentrations by specific discharge improved the water balance and resulted in higher estimates of nitrate retention. Our results suggest that groundwater inputs of nitrate can drive nitrate retention in streams with high groundwater discharge.


Focused discharge Groundwater Mass-balance Nitrogen Sediments 



We thank Samantha Mand, Tim Anderson, Mike Shupryt, Brandon Joachim, Jake Jungers, David Flagel, Heather Oxley, and Mike Fitzgerald for technical support. Emily Bernhardt and Bryant Browne provided helpful suggestions about the study design. The manuscript was much improved by comments from Jake Beaulieu, Randy Kolka and three anonymous reviewers. We are grateful for grant support from the United States Forest Service, the National Science Foundation, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert S. Stelzer
    • 1
  • Damion R. Drover
    • 1
    • 4
  • Susan L. Eggert
    • 2
  • Maureen A. Muldoon
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Biology and MicrobiologyUniversity of Wisconsin OshkoshOshkoshUSA
  2. 2.USDA Forest Service, Northern Research StationGrand RapidsUSA
  3. 3.Department of GeologyUniversity of Wisconsin OshkoshOshkoshUSA
  4. 4.Warnell School of Forestry and Natural ResourcesUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA

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