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Movement of nitrate fertilizer to glacial till and runoff from a claypan soil

January 1, 1996

Although water from 20 to 25% of shallow farmstead wells in northern Missouri has concentrations of nitrate (NO3/-) exceeding 10 mg L-1 as nitrogen (N), many potential sources for this NO3/- are usually present. A field experiment was designed to trace and isolate the amount of a single application of N fertilizer lost to a glacial-till aquifer and runoff from a 400 m2 corn (Zea mays L.) plot with bromide (Br-) and isotopically labeled (15N) fertilizer. Soil at the plot is a Albaquic Hapludalf of the Adco Series containing a 61 cm claypan beneath 41 to 43 cm of topsoil. Groundwater levels ranged from 0.38 to 2.40 m below the land surface. Transport of water and NO3/- to the saturated zone was not substantially retarded by the claypan. Labeled-N fertilizer accounted for as much as 8.6 mg L-1 of the NO3/- (as N) in groundwater, but only in the top 1 to 2 m of the saturated zone. After two growing seasons (16 mo), <2% of the labeled-N fertilizer was lost to runoff, about 30% was in the saturated zone, 27.3% was removed with the grain, and about 5% remained in the unsaturated zone. A large part of the remaining labeled N may have been lost in gaseous N forms. The presence of labeled NO3/- only in the top 2 m of the aquifer, slow horizontal transport, and winter recharge indicate grass crops such as wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) or rye (Secale cereale L.) might be used to extract near- surface N during the winter recharge period. Also, fall fertilizations can be expected to readily leach. Because groundwater concentrations of labeled NO3/- were still increasing after two growing seasons, rotation of crops requiring small N inputs could be expected to limit the cumulative effect of large annual fertilizer applications on groundwater.

Publication Year 1996
Title Movement of nitrate fertilizer to glacial till and runoff from a claypan soil
DOI 10.2134/jeq1996.00472425002500030026x
Authors D. W. Blevins, D.H. Wilkison, B. P. Kelly, S. R. Silva
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Environmental Quality
Index ID 70018485
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Toxic Substances Hydrology Program