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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract -

Nitrate Behavior in Ground Waters of the Southeastern USA1


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 28 No. 5, p. 1518-1527
    Received: Aug 6, 1998

    * Corresponding author(s): btnolan@usgs.gov
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  1. Bernard T. Nolan *
  1. U.S. Geological Survey, 413 National Center, Reston, VA 20192.



Principal components analysis (PCA) was performed with water-quality data from studies conducted during 1993 to 1995 to explore potential nitrate-attenuation processes in ground waters of the south-eastern USA. Nitrate reduction is an important attenuation process in selected areas of the Southeast. A nitrate-reduction component explains 23% of the total variance in the data and indicates that nitrate and dissolved oxygen (DO) are inversely related to ammonium, iron, manganese, and dissolved organic carbon (DOC). Additional components extracted by PCA include calcite dissolution (18% of variance explained) and phosphate dissolution (9% of variance explained). Reducing conditions in ground waters of the region influence nitrate behavior through bacterially mediated reduction in the presence of organic matter, and by inhibition of nitrate formation in anoxic ground water beneath forested areas. Component scores are consistent with observed water-quality conditions in the region. For example, median nitrate concentration in ground-water samples from the Albemarle-Pamlico Drainage Basin (ALBE) Coastal Plain is <0.05 mg L−1, median DOC concentration is 4.2 mg L−1, and median DO concentration is 2.1 mg L−1, consistent with denitrification. Nitrate reduction does not occur uniformly throughout the Southeast. Median DO concentrations in ground-water samples from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin (ACFB) are 6.2 to 7.1 mg L−1, and median nitrate concentrations are 0.61 to 2.2 mg L−1, inconsistent with denitrification. Similarly, median DO concentration in samples from the Georgia-Florida Coastal Plain (GAFL) is 6.0 mg L−1 and median nitrate concentration is 5.8 mg L−1.

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