Articles | Volume 17, issue 4
Research article
11 Apr 2013
Research article |  | 11 Apr 2013

Solute transport dynamics in small, shallow groundwater-dominated agricultural catchments: insights from a high-frequency, multisolute 10 yr-long monitoring study

A. H. Aubert, C. Gascuel-Odoux, G. Gruau, N. Akkal, M. Faucheux, Y. Fauvel, C. Grimaldi, Y. Hamon, A. Jaffrézic, M. Lecoz-Boutnik, J. Molénat, P. Petitjean, L. Ruiz, and P. Merot

Abstract. High-frequency, long-term and multisolute measurements are required to assess the impact of human pressures on water quality due to (i) the high temporal and spatial variability of climate and human activity and (ii) the fact that chemical solutes combine short- and long-term dynamics. Such data series are scarce. This study, based on an original and unpublished time series from the Kervidy-Naizin headwater catchment (Brittany, France), aims to determine solute transfer processes and dynamics that characterise this strongly human-impacted catchment.

The Kervidy-Naizin catchment is a temperate, intensive agricultural catchment, hydrologically controlled by shallow groundwater. Over 10 yr, five solutes (nitrate, sulphate, chloride, and dissolved organic and inorganic carbon) were monitored daily at the catchment outlet and roughly every four months in the shallow groundwater.

The concentrations of all five solutes showed seasonal variations but the patterns of the variations differed from one solute to another. Nitrate and chloride exhibit rather smooth variations. In contrast, sulphate as well as organic and inorganic carbon is dominated by flood flushes. The observed nitrate and chloride patterns are typical of an intensive agricultural catchment hydrologically controlled by shallow groundwater. Nitrate and chloride originating mainly from organic fertilisers accumulated over several years in the shallow groundwater. They are seasonally exported when upland groundwater connects with the stream during the wet season. Conversely, sulphate as well as organic and inorganic carbon patterns are not specific to agricultural catchments. These solutes do not come from fertilisers and do not accumulate in soil or shallow groundwater; instead, they are biogeochemically produced in the catchment. The results allowed development of a generic classification system based on the specific temporal patterns and source locations of each solute. It also considers the stocking period and the dominant process that limits transport to the stream, i.e. the connectivity of the stocking compartment. This mechanistic classification can be applied to any chemical solute to help assess its origin, storage or production location and transfer mechanism in similar catchments.