Quantification of nitrate removal by a flooded alluvial zone in the Ill floodplain (Eastern France)

The nitrate reducing capacity of a flooded system in the Ill floodplain (Eastern France) was investigated for a period of 2 years. The methodology used consisted of a spatio-temporal monitoring of stream flow and nitrate concentrations in the groundwater and surface water, calculation of input and output fluxes and modelling of groundwater fluxes and nitrate transfer through the alluvial area. A comparison of chloride flux (used as hydrological tracer) and nitrate flux was done to determine a floodplain effect on the retention of nitrate. We show that up to 95% of the nitrate load in the groundwater is retained by the system, whereas the retention in the stream network is very low. Ammonium fluxes increased from inputs to outputs in the stream and in the groundwater. The chloride input in the groundwater is higher than the output, whereas in the surface water the output is higher than the input, the amount evacuated in streams corresponding to the losses from groundwater. The nitrate removal rate calculated for the whole modelized surface area (40 km2) represented 559 t N yr-1 or 1397.7 kg N ha-1 yr-1. The ammonium fluxes exported by the system represented 102 kg N ha-1 yr-1 A part of nitrate is reduced and exported by the groundwater and stream network in the form of ammonium. These results can be explained by the duration of floods which controls the equilibrium between the various forms of nitrogen. Thus, long watering periods favour nitrogen removal (denitrification and plant uptake) and limit nitrate production which compensates elimination during the dry period.

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