, Volume 104, Issue 1–3, pp 293–308 | Cite as

Storm nitrogen dynamics in tile-drain flow in the US Midwest

  • P. E. Cuadra
  • P. Vidon


Storm losses of N via tile-drainage in the US Midwest are a major concern for water quality in the Mississippi River Basin (MRB). This study investigates the impact of precipitation characteristics on NO3 , NH4 + and DON concentrations and fluxes for spring storms in tile-drains in a Midwestern agricultural watershed. Bulk precipitation amount had little impact on solute median concentrations in tile-drains during storms, but clearly impacted Mg2+, K+ and NO3 concentration patterns. For large storms (>6 cm of bulk precipitation), large amounts of macropore flow (43–50% of total tile-drain flow) diluted Mg2+ and NO3 rich groundwater as discharge peaked. This pattern was not observed for NH4 + and DON or for smaller tile-flow generating events (<3 cm) during which macropore flow contributions were limited (11–17% of total tile-drain flow). Precipitation amount was positively (P < 0.01) correlated to NO3 and NH4 + export rates, but not to DON export rates. Limited variations in antecedent water table depth in spring had little influence on N dynamics for the storms studied. Although significant differences in flow characteristics were observed between tile-drains, solute concentration dynamics and macropore flow contributions to total tile-drain flow were similar for adjacent tile-drains. Generally, NO3 represented >80% of N flux during storms, while DON and NH4 + represented only 2–14% and 1–7% of N flux, respectively. This study stresses the non-linear behavior of N losses to tile drains during spring storms in artificially drained landscapes of the US Midwest, at a critical time of the year for N management in the MRB.


Tile drainage Nitrate Ammonium Dissolved organic nitrogen Precipitation characteristics Export rates 



The project described in this publication was supported by grant/cooperative agreement number # 08HQGR0052 to P. Vidon from the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USGS. Additional funding was also provided by an Indiana University–Purdue University, Indianapolis RSGF grant to P.Vidon and a Mirsky Fellowship to P.E. Cuadra. The authors would like to thank Matt Hennessy, Lani Pascual, Vince Hernly and Bob E. Hall for help in the field and the laboratory.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Earth SciencesIndiana University-Purdue University, IndianapolisIndianapolisUSA

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