Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 20, Issue 10, pp 6972–6979 | Cite as

Application of 15N–18O double stable isotope tracer technique in an agricultural nonpoint polluted river of the Yangtze Delta Region

  • X. Q. LiangEmail author
  • Z. Y. Nie
  • M. M. He
  • R. Guo
  • C. Y. Zhu
  • Y. X. Chen
  • Küppers Stephan
Processes and Environmental Quality in the Yangtze River System


One strategy to combat nitrate (NO3-N) contamination in rivers is to understand its sources. NO3-N sources in the East Tiaoxi River of the Yangtze Delta Region were investigated by applying a 15N–18O dual isotope approach. Water samples were collected from the main channel and from the tributaries. Results show that high total N and NO3-N are present in both the main channel and the major tributaries, and NO3-N was one of the most important N forms in water. Analysis of isotopic compositions (δ 18O, δD) of water suggests that the river water mainly originated from three tributaries during the sampling period. There was a wide range of δ 15N-NO3 (−1.4 to 12.4 ‰) and a narrow range of δ 18O-NO3 (3.7 to 9.0 ‰) in the main channel waters. The δ 15N and δ 18O-NO3 values in the upper, middle, and lower channels along the river were shifted as 8.2, 3.5, and 9.5 ‰, and 9.0, 4.2, and 6.0 ‰, respectively. In the tributary South Tiao, the δ 15N and δ 18O-NO3 values were as high as 9.5 and 7.0 ‰, while in the tributaries Mid Tiao and North Tiao, NO3-N in most of the samples had relatively low δ 15N and δ 18O-NO3 values from 2.3 to 7.5 ‰ and 4.7 to 7.0 ‰, separately. Our results also suggest that the dual isotope approach can help us develop the best management practice for relieving NO3-N pollution in the rivers at the tributary scale.


Nitrate total N Isotopic composition Agricultural nonpoint source pollution Tiaoxi River Yangtze Delta Region China 



South Tiao


Mid Tiao


North Tiao



We are grateful for grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (40901142), the National Key Science and Technology Project: Water Pollution Control and Treatment (no. 2012ZX07506-006), and the Provincial Science & Technology Program of Zhejiang Province (no. 2010C33154). The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions during the manuscript modifications.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • X. Q. Liang
    • 1
    Email author
  • Z. Y. Nie
    • 1
  • M. M. He
    • 2
  • R. Guo
    • 1
  • C. Y. Zhu
    • 1
  • Y. X. Chen
    • 1
  • Küppers Stephan
    • 3
  1. 1.Institute of Environmental Science and Technology, College of Environmental and Resources SciencesZhejiang UniversityHangzhouChina
  2. 2.Department of Life and Environmental ScienceHangzhou Normal UniversityHangzhouChina
  3. 3.Research Center JülichCentral Division of Analytical ChemistryJülichGermany

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