, Volume 142, Issue 1, pp 95–116 | Cite as

The fate of monsoonal atmospheric nitrate deposition in two forest catchments in Soyang lake watershed, South Korea: a mass balance and stable isotope approach

  • Silvia Parra Suárez
  • Gerhard GebauerEmail author


Over 60% of South Korea is covered by forests. Nitrate deposition plays an important role as nitrogen source in these forests. Nitrate input from deposition increases nitrogen availability leading initially to increases in productivity. However, later forests may become nitrogen saturated with nitrate leaching, denitrification and forest decline. Using a mass balance approach, we compared the atmospheric nitrate input and output by stream runoff in two forest sub-catchments, a deciduous and a mixed catchment, within the Soyang lake watershed, the main drinking water reservoir for the 20-million-person metropolis Seoul. A dual stable isotope approach was used to identify the origin of nitrate in stream discharge of the two sub-catchments. Extremely different monsoon seasons in 2013 and 2014 drove the nitrate discharge. Total nitrate-N export was closely related with rainfall events and intensities. Nitrate-N discharge at the deciduous forest was lower than nitrate-N deposition, thus sink conditions prevailed. Nitrate-N discharge at the mixed forest was consistently higher. During the heavy monsoon season of 2013 the mixed forest turned from a sink for atmospheric nitrate towards a source, i.e. nitrate amounts in the discharge were higher than atmospheric inputs. Nitrate isotopic compositions of stream water from both forests revealed soil nitrification as main nitrate source. However, under conditions of heavy monsoon rainfall direct runoff of atmospheric deposition nitrate was identified in the mixed forest. Lower nitrate assimilation capacities of conifers compared to broadleaf trees are probably the driver for a lower nitrate retention capacity making coniferous forests more prone to nitrate leaching.


Nitrate Monsoon Stable isotope Atmospheric deposition Retention capacity Microbial nitrification 



This study was carried out as part of the International Research Training Group TERRECO-Complex TERRain and ECOlogical Heterogeneity (GRK 1565/1) funded by the DFG-Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft at the University of Bayreuth, Germany. We thank also SENECYT (National Secretary for Higher Education Science and Technology) of the Ecuadorian government and its scholarship program “Convocatoria Abierta 2015- I Fase”, that financed the data analysis period of S.P.S. for this research. We appreciate the enormous support from the staff in the Department of Hydrology and the Laboratory of Isotope Biogeochemistry at the University of Bayreuth in the sample analysis. We are especially thankful to Jutta Eckert, Christine Tiroch and Petra Eckert. A special thanks to Andreas Kolb, Department of Soils Physics University of Bayreuth, for his help with the equipment preparation before each field campaign. Constructive comments by three anonymous reviewers helped substantially for improving the manuscript.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 348 kb)


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.BayCEER - Laboratory of Isotope BiogeochemistryUniversity of BayreuthBayreuthGermany

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