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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 14, issue 11
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 14, 2259–2275, 2010
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-14-2259-2010
© Author(s) 2010. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 14, 2259–2275, 2010
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-14-2259-2010
© Author(s) 2010. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 16 Nov 2010

Research article | 16 Nov 2010

Water and nutrient balances in a large tile-drained agricultural catchment: a distributed modeling study

H. Li1,2, M. Sivapalan1,3,4, F. Tian3,5, and D. Liu3,5 H. Li et al.
  • 1Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL 61801, USA
  • 2Pacific Northwest National Lab, Richland, WA 99352, USA
  • 3Department of Geography, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL 61801, USA
  • 4Department of Water Management, Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, Delft University of Technology, Postbus 1048, Stevinweg 1, 2600 GA Delft, The Netherlands
  • 5Department of Hydraulic Engineering, State Key Laboratory of Hydroscience and Engineering, Tsinghua University, Beijing, 100084, China

Abstract. This paper presents the development and implementation of a distributed model of coupled water nutrient processes, based on the representative elementary watershed (REW) approach, to the Upper Sangamon River Basin, a large, tile-drained agricultural basin located in central Illinois, mid-west of USA. Comparison of model predictions with the observed hydrological and biogeochemical data, as well as regional estimates from literature studies, shows that the model is capable of capturing the dynamics of water, sediment and nutrient cycles reasonably well. The model is then used as a tool to gain insights into the physical and chemical processes underlying the inter- and intra-annual variability of water and nutrient balances. Model predictions show that about 80% of annual runoff is contributed by tile drainage, while the remainder comes from surface runoff (mainly saturation excess flow) and subsurface runoff. It is also found that, at the annual scale nitrogen storage in the soil is depleted during wet years, and is supplemented during dry years. This carryover of nitrogen storage from dry year to wet year is mainly caused by the lateral loading of nitrate. Phosphorus storage, on the other hand, is not affected much by wet/dry conditions simply because the leaching of it is very minor compared to the other mechanisms taking phosphorous out of the basin, such as crop harvest. The analysis then turned to the movement of nitrate with runoff. Model results suggested that nitrate loading from hillslope into the channel is preferentially carried by tile drainage. Once in the stream it is then subject to in-stream denitrification, the significant spatio-temporal variability of which can be related to the variation of the hydrologic and hydraulic conditions across the river network.

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