Tracing sources of nitrate in snowmelt runoff using a high-resolution isotopic technique

Nobu Ohte, S. D. Sebestyen, J. B. Shanley, D. H. Doctor, C. Kendall, S. D. Wankel, E. W. Boyer

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The denitrifier method to determine the dual isotopic composition (δ15N and δ18O) of nitrate is well suited for studies of nitrogen contributions to streams during runoff events. This method requires only 70 nmol of NO3- and enables high throughput of samples. We studied nitrate sources to a headwater stream during snowmelt by generating a high-temporal resolution dataset at the Sleepers River Research Watershed in Vermont, USA. In the earliest phase of runoff, stream NO3- concentrations were highest and stream discharge, NO3 - concentrations, and δ18O of NO 3- generally tracked one another during diurnal melting. The isotopic composition of stream NO3 - varied in-between atmospheric and groundwater NO 3- end members indicating a direct contribution of atmospherically-derived NO3- from the snow pack to the stream. During the middle to late phases of snowmelt, the source shifted toward soil NO3- entering the stream via shallow subsurface flow paths.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)L21506 1-4
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 16 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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