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Keywords:

  • nitrate;
  • groundwater;
  • Great Britain;
  • GIS

Abstract

A simple process-based approach to predict regional-scale loading of nitrate at the water table was implemented in a GIS for Great Britain. This links a nitrate input function, unsaturated zone thickness, and lithologically dependent rate of nitrate unsaturated zone travel to estimate arrival time of nitrate at the water table. The nitrate input function is the loading at the base of the soil and has been validated using unsaturated zone porewater profiles. The unsaturated zone thickness uses groundwater levels based on regional-scale observations infilled by interpolated river base levels. Estimates of the rate of unsaturated zone travel are attributed from regional-scale hydrogeological mapping. The results indicate that peak nitrate loading may have already arrived at the water table for many aquifers, but that it has not where the unsaturated zone is relatively thick There are contrasting outcomes for the two main aquifers which have similar unsaturated zone velocities, the predominantly low relief Permo-Triassic sandstones, and the Chalk, which forms significant topographic features. For about 60% of the Chalk, the peak input has not yet reached the water table and will continue to arrive over the next 60 years. The methodology is readily transferable and provides a robust method for estimating peak arrival time for any diffuse conservative pollutant where an input function can be defined at a regional scale and requires only depth to groundwater and a hydrogeological classification. The methodology is extendable in that if additional information is available this can easily be incorporated into the model scheme. British Geology Survey © NERC 2011. Hydrological Process © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd