, Volume 117, Issue 2–3, pp 491–509 | Cite as

Interpreting spatial patterns in redox and coupled water–nitrogen fluxes in the streambed of a gaining river reach

  • Catherine HeppellEmail author
  • A. Louise Heathwaite
  • Andrew Binley
  • Patrick Byrne
  • Sami Ullah
  • Katrina Lansdown
  • Patrick Keenan
  • Mark Trimmer
  • Hao Zhang


Water pathways through permeable riverbeds are multi-dimensional, including lateral hyporheic exchange flows as well as vertical (upwelling and downwelling) fluxes. The influence of different pathways of water on solute patterns and the supply of nitrate and other redox-sensitive chemical species in the riverbed is poorly understood but could be environmentally significant. For example, nitrate-rich upwelling water in the gaining reaches of groundwater-fed rivers has the potential to supply significant quantities of nitrate through the riverbed to surface waters, constraining opportunities to deliver the goals of the EU Water Framework Directive to achieve ‘good ecological status’. We show that patterns in porewater chemistry in the armoured river bed of a gaining reach (River Leith, Cumbria) reflect the spatial variability in different sources of water; oxic conditions being associated with preferential discharge from groundwater and reducing conditions with longitudinal and lateral fluxes of water due to water movement from riparian zones and/or hyporheic exchange flows. Our findings demonstrate the important control of both vertical and lateral water fluxes on patterns of redox-sensitive chemical species in the river bed. Furthermore, under stable, baseflow conditions (<Q90) a zone of preferential discharge, comprising 20 % of the reach by area contributes 4–9 % of the total nitrate being transported through the reach in surface water, highlighting the need to understand the spatial distribution of such preferential discharge locations at the catchment scale to establish their importance for nitrate delivery to the stream channel.


Hyporheic Nitrate Hydrological pathways Groundwater-fed Rivers Water quality Pollution 



This work was funded by NERC Grants NE/F006063/1 and NE/F004753/1. The authors would like to acknowledge the support of Dr Paddy Keenan in helping to set up and maintain the field site and in undertaking a substantial part of the chemical analyses where rapid analysis was critical to avoid sample deterioration. We also acknowledge the Eden Rivers Trust and Lowther Estates in facilitating access to the site and the Environment Agency in giving consent to establish the experimental set-up in the river. This paper contains Environment Agency information © Environment Agency and database right.

Supplementary material

10533_2013_9895_MOESM1_ESM.tif (20.8 mb)
Spatial variations in nitrate concentration (Nitrate-N mg L−1) along the study reach (a) July 2009; (b) August 2009; (c) September 2009; (d) July 2010; (e) August 2010; (f) September 2010. Supplementary material 1 (TIFF 21262 kb)
10533_2013_9895_MOESM2_ESM.tif (20.6 mb)
Spatial variations in chloride concentration (mg L−1) along the study reach (a) July 2009; (b) August 2009; (c) September 2009; (d) July 2010; (e) August 2010; (f) September 2010. Supplementary material 2 (TIFF 21069 kb)
10533_2013_9895_MOESM3_ESM.tif (20.7 mb)
Spatial variations in sulphate concentration (Sulphate-S mg L−1) along the study reach (a) July 2009; (b) August 2009; (c) September 2009; (d) July 2010; (e) August 2010; (f) September 2010. Supplementary material 3 (TIFF 21244 kb)
10533_2013_9895_MOESM4_ESM.tif (20.6 mb)
Spatial variations in Fe and Fe(II) concentration (mg L−1) along the study reach (a) July 2009; (b) August 2009; (c) September 2009; (d) July 2010; (e) August 2010; (f) September 2010. Supplementary material 4 (TIFF 21097 kb)
10533_2013_9895_MOESM5_ESM.tif (21.7 mb)
Spatial variations in ammonium concentration (Ammonium-N mg L−1) along the study reach (a) July 2009; (b) August 2009; (c) September 2009; (d) July 2010; (e) August 2010; (f) September 2010. Supplementary material 5 (TIFF 22190 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Catherine Heppell
    • 1
    Email author
  • A. Louise Heathwaite
    • 2
  • Andrew Binley
    • 2
  • Patrick Byrne
    • 2
    • 5
  • Sami Ullah
    • 2
    • 4
  • Katrina Lansdown
    • 1
    • 3
  • Patrick Keenan
    • 2
  • Mark Trimmer
    • 3
  • Hao Zhang
    • 2
  1. 1.School of GeographyQueen Mary University of LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Lancaster Environment CentreLancaster UniversityLancasterUK
  3. 3.School of Biological and Chemical SciencesQueen Mary University of LondonLondonUK
  4. 4.School of Physical and Geographical SciencesKeele UniversityStaffordshireUK
  5. 5.School of Natural Sciences and PsychologyLiverpool John Moores UniversityLiverpoolUK

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