Water, Air, and Soil Pollution

, Volume 133, Issue 1–4, pp 161–183 | Cite as

Mechanisms of Nitrate Transfer from Soil to Stream in an Agricultural Watershed of French Brittany

  • Jérôme Molénat
  • Patrick Durand
  • Chantal Gascuel-Odoux
  • Philippe Davy
  • Gérard Gruau


In French Brittany, water pollution with nitrate due tointensive agriculture has become one of the major environmentalconcerns. In this article, the nitrate, sulfate and chlorideconcentrations from the groundwater and the stream of a first-order agricultural watershed, are analyzed to infer the mechanisms responsible for the distribution and transfer of nitrate within the watershed. The aquifer is constituted by three layers: the thin soil cover, the weathered shale and thefissured shale. The weathered shale groundwater appears to bea large reservoir of nitrate in the watershed. Indeed the amount of nitrate is estimated at about 450 kg N ha-1, 5 to 9 times the total annual nitrate flux in the stream. In the upslope zones, this groundwater exhibited high nitrate concentrations (up to 138.4±10.5 mg NO3- L-1), which decreased along the flow paths towards the stream (77.1±13.8 mg NO3- L-1). Unlike nitrate, sulfate concentrations showed an increase from uphillto downhill (from 6.1±0.8 to 12.5±5.4 mg SO42- L-1) with little change in chloride concentrations. These patterns are presumed to result from upward flows from fissured shale groundwater where denitrification by oxidation of pyrite occurs with sulfate as end product. A scheme of nitrate transfer is proposed where stream discharge would result from the mixing of three end members which are: uphill weathered groundwater, deep groundwater and water in the uppermost soil horizons ofthe bottomlands. Temporal variability of nitrate concentrationsin base flow reflects changes in the relative contribution of each end member.

agriculture denitrification diffuse pollution flowpath groundwater nitrate watershed 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jérôme Molénat
    • 1
  • Patrick Durand
    • 1
  • Chantal Gascuel-Odoux
    • 1
  • Philippe Davy
    • 2
  • Gérard Gruau
    • 2
  1. 1.Unité Sol et Agronomie de Rennes-Quimper, INRARennes CedexFrance
  2. 2.Rennes CedexFrance

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