Nitrate uptake in an agricultural stream estimated from high-frequency, in-situ sensors

  • Christopher S. Jones
  • Sea-won Kim
  • Thomas F. Wilton
  • Keith E. Schilling
  • Caroline A. Davis


Real-time, continuous, in situ water quality sensors were deployed on a fourth-order Iowa (U.S.) stream draining an agricultural watershed to evaluate key in-stream processes affecting concentrations of nitrate during a 24-day late summer (Aug–Sep) period. Overall, nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N) concentrations declined 0.11 mg L−1 km−1, or about 1.9% km−1 and 35% in total across 18 km. We also calculated stream metabolic rates using in situ dissolved oxygen data and determined stream biotic N demand to be 108–117 mg m−2 day−1. From this, we estimate that 11% of the NO3-N concentration decline measured between two in-situ sensors separated by 2 km was a result of biotic NO3-N demand, while groundwater NO3-N data and estimates of groundwater flow contributions indicate that dilution was responsible for 53%. Because the concentration decline extends linearly across the entire 18 km of stream length, these processes seem consistent throughout the basin downstream of the most upstream sensor site. The nitrate-dissolved oxygen relationship between the two sites separated by 2 km, calculations of biotic NO3-N demand, and diurnal variations in NO3-N concentration all indicate that denitrification by anaerobes is removing less NO3-N than that assimilated by aquatic organisms unable to fix nitrogen for their life processes, and thus the large majority of the NO3-N entering this stream is not retained or removed, but rather transported downstream.


Nitrate nitrogen Biotic N demand Assimilation Denitrification In-situ sensor 



Community respiration


Gross primary production


Net production





This publication was prepared by the authors with funds from the Iowa Nutrient Research Center. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center or Iowa State University.

Supplementary material

10661_2018_6599_MOESM1_ESM.docx (19 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 18 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher S. Jones
    • 1
  • Sea-won Kim
    • 1
  • Thomas F. Wilton
    • 2
  • Keith E. Schilling
    • 3
  • Caroline A. Davis
    • 1
  1. 1.IIHR-Hydroscience and EngineeringUniversity of IowaIowa CityUSA
  2. 2.Iowa Department of Natural ResourcesDes MoinesUSA
  3. 3.Iowa Geological SurveyIowa CityUSA

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