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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract -

Nitrite and the Two Stages of Nitrification in Nitrogen Polluted Onondaga Lake, New York


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 28 No. 5, p. 1505-1517
    Received: Dec 17, 1998

    * Corresponding author(s): sweffler@upstatefreshwater.org
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  1. Rakesh K. Gelda,
  2. Steven W. Effler * and
  3. Carol M. Brooks
  1. Upstate Freshwater Inst., P.O. Box 506, Syracuse, NY 13214.



Nitrite (NO2) concentrations in the upper waters of N polluted Onondaga Lake, New York, are documented for the April through October interval for a 10-yr (1989–1998) period. Inputs of NO2 from a domestic waste treatment facility (METRO) and tributaries (4) to the lake are quantified for four of the years (1991–1994). The NO2 concentrations measured in Onondaga Lake (e.g., annual maxima in the range 200–1000 mg N m 3) are some of the highest reported for lakes and rivers in the literature. These levels represent severe violations of toxicity standards. Annual average concentrations in the METRO effluent ranged from 412 to 1097 mg N m−3. The METRO load represented >90% of the total external NO2 load to the lake. A mechanistic mass balance model for NO2 and NO3 is developed and applied for the lake to identify occurrences, and quantify the rates, of the first and second stages of nitrification. Nitrite is found to behave in a nearly conservative manner in the upper waters of the lake over the April to July interval. The progressive increases in concentrations over this interval have been largely in response to inputs from METRO. Major deviations from conservative behavior occurred for NO2 in most years over the July to October interval as a result of the irregular operation of the two stages of the nitrification process. This has been manifested as large and abrupt changes in NO2 concentration in the July to October interval. Potential factors responsible for the observed dynamics in nitrification and the NO2 pool are considered.

Contribution no. 192 of the Upstate Freshwater Institute.

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