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Nitrogen transport within an agricultural landscape: insights on how hydrology, biogeochemistry, and the landscape intersect to control the fate and transport of nitrogen in the Mississippi Delta

January 1, 2015

Nitrogen (N) is a ubiquitous contaminant throughout agricultural landscapes due to both the application of inorganic and organic fertilizers to agricultural fields and the general persistence of nitrate (NO3 ) in oxygenated aqueous environments (Denver et al. 2010; Domagalski et al. 2008; Green et al. 2008; Coupe 2001; Nolan and Stoner 2000). In order to understand why excess N occurs various hydrologic systems (environments), it is important to consider potential sources, the locations of these sources in the watershed, and the timing of the application of sources with respect to the movement of water. To learn how to manage N in a watershed, it is necessary to identify and quantify flow paths and biogeochemical conditions, which ultimately combine to determine transport and fate. If sources, transport mechanisms, and biogeochemical controls were uniformly distributed, it would be possible to manage N uniformly throughout a watershed. However, uniform conditions are rare to nonexistent in the natural world and in the landscape altered for agricultural production. In order to adjust management activities on the landscape to have the greatest effect, it is important to understand the fate and transport N within the intersection of hydrology and biogeochemistry, that is, to understand the extent and duration of the hydrologic and biogeochemical controls as N is routed through and among each hydrologic compartment.

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