Diel patterns in coastal-stream nitrate concentrations linked to evapotranspiration in the riparian zone of a low-relief, agricultural catchment

Authors

  • Samuel A. Flewelling,

    1. Gradient, Cambridge, MA, USA
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  • George M. Hornberger,

    1. Vanderbilt Institute for Energy and Environment, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA
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  • Janet S. Herman,

    1. Program of Interdisciplinary Research in Contaminant Hydrogeology, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, USA
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  • Aaron L. Mills,

    Corresponding author
    1. Program of Interdisciplinary Research in Contaminant Hydrogeology, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, USA
    • Correspondence to: Aaron L. Mills, Program of Interdisciplinary Research in Contaminant Hydrogeology, Department of Environmental Sciences, P.O. Box 400123, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4123, USA.

      E-mail: amills@virginia.edu

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  • Wendy M. Robertson

    1. The University of Texas at Austin, Department of Geological Sciences, Austin, TX, USA
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Abstract

Evapotranspiration (ET) can cause diel fluctuations in the elevation of the water table and the stage in adjacent streams. The diel fluctuations of water levels change head gradients throughout the day, causing specific discharge through near-stream sediment to fluctuate at the same time scale. In a previous study, we showed that specific discharge controls the residence time of groundwater in streambed sediment that, in turn, exerted the primary control on math formula removal from groundwater passing through the streambed. In this study, we examine the magnitude of diel specific discharge patterns through the streambed driven by ET in the riparian zone with a transient numerical saturated–unsaturated groundwater flow model. On the basis of a first-order kinetic model for math formula removal, we predicted diel fluctuations in stream math formula concentrations. Model results indicated that ET drove a diel pattern in specific discharge through the streambed and riparian zone (the math formula removal zones). Because specific discharge is inversely proportional to groundwater travel time through the math formula removal zones and travel time determines the extent of math formula removal, diel changes in ET can result in a diel pattern in math formula concentration in the stream. The model predictions generally matched observations made during summertime base-flow conditions in a small coastal plain stream in Virginia. A more complicated pattern was observed following a seasonal drawdown period, where source components to the stream changed during the receding limb of the hydrograph and resulted in diel fluctuations being superimposed over a multi-day trend in math formula concentrations. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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