Articles | Volume 27, issue 1
Research article
 | Highlight paper
13 Jan 2023
Research article | Highlight paper |  | 13 Jan 2023

Droughts can reduce the nitrogen retention capacity of catchments

Carolin Winter, Tam V. Nguyen, Andreas Musolff, Stefanie R. Lutz, Michael Rode, Rohini Kumar, and Jan H. Fleckenstein

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Cited articles

Andersen, C. B., Lewis, G. P., and Sargent, K. A.: Influence of wastewater-treatment effluent on concentrations and fluxes of solutes in the Bush River, South Carolina, during extreme drought conditions, Environ. Geosci., 11, 28–41,, 2004. 
Bieroza, M., Bergström, L., Ulén, B., Djodjic, F., Tonderski, K., Heeb, A., Svensson, J., and Malgeryd, J.: Hydrologic Extremes and Legacy Sources Can Override Efforts to Mitigate Nutrient and Sediment Losses at the Catchment Scale, J. Environ. Qual., 48, 1314–1324,, 2019. 
Burt, T. P., Worrall, F., Howden, N. J. K., and Anderson, M. G.: Shifts in discharge-concentration relationships as a small catchment recover from severe drought, Hydrol. Process., 29, 498–507,, 2015. 
Campbell, C. A. and Biederbeck, V. O.: Changes in mineral N and numbers of bacteria and actinomycetes during two years under wheat-fallow in Southwestern Saskatchewan, Can. J. Soil Sci., 62, 125–137,, 1982. 
Casquin, A., Dupas, R., Gu, S., Couic, E., Gruau, G., and Durand, P.: The influence of landscape spatial configuration on nitrogen and phosphorus exports in agricultural catchments, Landsc. Ecol., 36, 3383–3399,, 2021. 
Executive editor
Understanding how catchments respond to change is a central theme of the work of many hydrologists around the world, however, it is fair to say that the vast majority of these studies have focused on water quantity. This study is unique in that it represents a very detailed treatment of how water quality changes due to drought, which is a topic that is becoming ever so important with the rapid changes happening in warming climate for many regions of the world. The authors very cleverly combine both complex models and data-driven analyses to elucidate the effects of extreme drought on river water quality.
Short summary
The increasing frequency of severe and prolonged droughts threatens our freshwater resources. While we understand drought impacts on water quantity, its effects on water quality remain largely unknown. Here, we studied the impact of the unprecedented 2018–2019 drought in Central Europe on nitrate export in a heterogeneous mesoscale catchment in Germany. We show that severe drought can reduce a catchment's capacity to retain nitrogen, intensifying the internal pollution and export of nitrate.