Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 738–748 | Cite as

Using nitrogen and oxygen isotopes to access sources and transformations of nitrogen in the Qinhe Basin, North China

  • Yong Qin
  • Dong Zhang
  • Fushun Wang
Research Article


Nitrate pollution in water is a common environmental problem worldwide. The Qinhe Basin (QHB) faces with the risk of eutrophication. To clarify nitrate pollution of river water, water chemical data, water isotope values (δD and δ18O–H2O), and dual nitrate isotope values (δ15N–NO3 and δ18O–NO3) were used to discern sources and transformation mechanisms of nitrogen in the QHB. The nitrate concentrations of river water ranged from 0.71 to 20.81 mg L−1. The δD and δ18O–H2O values of river water varied from − 74 to −52‰ and from − 10.8 to − 7.2‰, with an average value of − 60‰ and − 8.2‰, respectively. The δ15N–NO3 and δ18O–NO3 values of nitrate ranged from − 6.7 to + 14.8‰ and from − 6.0 to + 5.6‰, with a mean value of + 4.6‰ and − 0.6‰, respectively. Assimilation by algae and the mixing of soil nitrogen, chemical fertilizer, sewage, and industrial wastewater could account for increasing δ15N–NO3 values. There was neither significantly positive nor negative correlation between δ15N–NO3 and δ18O–NO3 in river water, indicating that no obvious denitrification shifted isotopic values of nitrate in the QHB. Based on the dual isotopic values of nitrate and land use change in the watershed, it could be concluded that intensive nitrification dominated in the QHB, and dissolved nitrate was mainly derived from nitrification of ammonium in fertilizer, soil nitrogen, and domestic sewage. As the primary nitrate sources identified in the QHB, effective fertilization and afforestation can be taken to protect water resource from nitrate pollution.


Qinhe Basin Nitrate source Dual nitrate isotopes Assimilation Denitrification Nitrification 



We would like to thank Mr. Li Xiao-Dong and Mr. Lei Guo-Liang for their help in determining isotopic compositions of nitrate. We would like to thank Wang Sai for his help during field sampling. We also would like to thank two anonymous referees whose comments and suggestions on an earlier version have greatly improved our manuscript.

Funding information

The work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 41573095 and 41573064).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Environmental and Chemical EngineeringShanghai UniversityShanghaiChina
  2. 2.School of Resources & EnvironmentHenan Polytechnic UniversityJiaozuoChina

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