Nitrate fluctuations at the water table: implications for recharge processes and solute transport in the Chalk aquifer

Sorensen, J.P.R.; Butcher, A.S.; Stuart, M.E.; Townsend, B.R.. 2015 Nitrate fluctuations at the water table: implications for recharge processes and solute transport in the Chalk aquifer. Hydrological Processes, 29 (15). 3355-3367.

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This study investigates fluctuations in nitrate concentration at the water table to improve understanding of unsaturated zone processes in the Chalk aquifer. Sampling was conducted using a novel multi-level sampler during periods of water table rise over 5 years at a vertical resolution of 0.05 m. Nitrate concentration increased as the water table seasonally recovered, with similar inter-annual trends with depth. The rising water table activated horizontal fractures facilitating the delivery of water elevated by up to 10 mg/l of nitrate with respect to the adjacent groundwater below. These fractures are considered to activate via piston displacement of water from the adjoining matrix. Hydrograph analysis identified 16 events which significantly perturbed the water table within 24–48 h of rainfall. Consistent nitrate concentrations indicate recharge through persistent fracture flow from the surface was not generally the primary driver of the rapid water table response during these events. Instead, the response was attributed to the piston displacement of porewater immediately above the water table. However, a single event in November 2012 delivered relatively dilute recharge indicating rapid persistent fracture flow following rainfall was possible to a depth of 14–15 m. Decreases in porewater nitrate concentration around fracture horizons and the dilution of many groundwater samples with respect to porewaters indicate a fresher source of water at depth. This was considered most likely to be a result of near surface water bypassing the matrix because of widespread mineralization on fracture surfaces, which retard water and solute exchange. Therefore, persistent fracture flow maybe considered a frequent process, operating independently of the matrix, and is not necessarily event driven.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
ISSN: 0885-6087
Additional Keywords: nitrate, chalk, recharge, piston displacement, fracture flow, contamination, GroundwaterBGS, Groundwater, Nitrate pollution
NORA Subject Terms: Hydrology
Date made live: 18 Feb 2015 11:38 +0 (UTC)

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