Seasonal variations of nitrogen and phosphorus retention in an agricultural drainage river in East China

Dingjiang Chen, Jun Lu, Hailong Wang, Yena Shen, Mark O Kimberley
Environmental Science and Pollution Research International 2010, 17 (2): 312-20

BACKGROUND, AIM, AND SCOPE: Riverine retention decreases loads of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) in running water. It is an important process in nutrient cycling in watersheds. However, temporal riverine nutrient retention capacity varies due to changes in hydrological, ecological, and nutrient inputs into the watershed. Quantitative information of seasonal riverine N and P retention is critical for developing strategies to combat diffuse source pollution and eutrophication in riverine and coastal systems. This study examined seasonal variation of riverine total N (TN) and total P (TP) retention in the ChangLe River, an agricultural drainage river in east China.

METHODS: Water quality, hydrological parameters, and hydrophyte coverage were monitored along the ChangLe River monthly during 2004-2006. Nutrient export loads (including chemical fertilizer, livestock, and domestic sources) entering the river from the catchment area were computed using an export coefficient model based on estimated nutrient sources. Riverine TN and TP retention loads (RNRL and RPRL) were estimated using mass balance calculations. Temporal variations in riverine nutrient retention were analyzed statistically.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION: Estimated annual riverine retention loads ranged from 1,538 to 2,127 t year(-1) for RNRL and from 79.4 to 90.4 t year(-1) for RPRL. Monthly retention loads varied from 6.4 to 300.8 t month(-1) for RNRL and from 1.4 to 15.3 t month(-1) for RPRL. Both RNRL and RPRL increased with river flow, water temperature, hydrophyte coverage, monthly sunshine hours, and total TN and TP inputs. Dissolved oxygen concentration and the pH level of the river water decreased with RNRL and RPRL. Riverine nutrient retention ratios (retention as a percentage of total input) were only related to hydrophyte coverage and monthly sunshine hours. Monthly variations in RNRL and RPRL were functions of TN and TP loads.

CONCLUSIONS: Riverine nutrient retention capacity varied with environmental conditions. Annual RNRL and RPRL accounted for 30.3-48.3% and 52.5-71.2%, respectively, of total input TN and TP loads in the ChangLe River. Monthly riverine retention ratios were 3.5-88.7% for TN and 20.5-92.6% for TP. Hydrophyte growth and coverage on the river bed is the main cause for seasonal variation in riverine nutrient retention capacity. The total input TN and TP loads were the best indicators of RNRL and RPRL, respectively.

RECOMMENDATIONS AND PERSPECTIVES: High riverine nutrient retention capacity during summer due to hydrophytic growth is favorable to the avoidance of algal bloom in both river systems and coastal water in southeast China. Policies should be developed to strictly control nutrient applications on agricultural lands. Strategies for promoting hydrophyte growth in rivers are desirable for water quality management.

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