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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract -

Nitrogen Losses from Soils of the North Carolina Coastal Plain1


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 4 No. 3, p. 317-323
    Received: Oct 16, 1974

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  1. R. P. Gambrell,
  2. J. W. Gilliam and
  3. S. B. Weed2



Nitrogen balances were measured for a moderately well-drained and a poorly drained soil in the North Carolina Coastal Plain to evaluate the effect of drainage on the fate of unutilized fertilizer N. Approximately one-half of the fertilizer N applied to each soil was not utilized by the crop.

Most of the nitrogen lost by surface runoff from both soils was organic nitrogen associated with the sediment. However, there was a measurable increase in loss of nitrogen from fertilized plots as compared to unfertilized plots. The poorly drained soil (27% organic matter) had approximately 50% less surface runoff than did the moderately well-drained soil (2% organic matter). However, the concentration of N in runoff from the poorly drained soil was almost twice as great resulting in nearly identical N losses from the two soils. Much of the total surface loss of N from corn (Zea mays L.) occurred during the first few months after planting.

During the winters after the 1972 and 1973 harvests, an average of 46 kg NO3-N/ha moved from the moderately well-drained soil by subsurface drainage. A portion of this loss entered surface waters directly via tile outlets. The remainder was thought to enter a shallow aquifer and is believed to ultimately move with the water to nearby surface streams. It is unlikely that denitrification removed significant amounts of N from the moderately well-drained soil.

An average of 16 kg NO3-N/ha was removed from the poorly drained soil by subsurface drainage during the two winters. The smaller loss from the poorly drained soil was thought to result from denitrification of residual NO3 in the shallow ground water.

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