Seasonal variation of nitrogen biogeochemical processes constrained by nitrate dual isotopes in cascade reservoirs, Southwestern China

Abstract

The increase of affected river reaches by reservoirs has drastically disturbed the original hydrological conditions, and subsequently influenced the nutrient biogeochemistry in the aquatic system, particularly in the cascade reservoir system. To understand the seasonal variation of nitrogen (N) behaviors in cascade reservoirs, hydrochemistry and nitrate dual isotopes (δ15N-NO3 and δ18O-NO3) were conducted in a karst watershed (Wujiang River) in southwest China. The results showed that NO3–N accounted for almost 90% of the total dissolved nitrogen (TDN) concentration with high average concentration 3.8 ± 0.4 mg/L among four cascade reservoirs. Higher N concentration (4.0 ± 0.8 mg/L) and larger longitudinal variation were observed in summer than in other seasons. The relationship between the variation of NO3–N and dual isotopes in the profiles demonstrated that nitrification was dominated transformation, while assimilation contributed significantly in the epilimnion during spring and summer. The high dissolved oxygen concentration in the present cascade reservoirs system prevented the occurrence of N depletion processes in most of the reservoirs. Denitrification occurred in the oldest reservoir during winter with a rate ranging from 18 to 28%. The long-term record of surface water TDN concentration in reservoirs demonstrated an increase from 2.0 to 3.6 mg/L during the past two decades (~ 0.1 mg/L per year). The seasonal nitrate isotopic signature and continuously increased fertilizer application demonstrated that chemical fertilizer contribution significantly influenced NO3–N concentration in the karst cascade reservoirs. The research highlighted that the notable N increase in karst cascade reservoirs could influence the aquatic health in the region and further investigations were required.

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Data Availability

The datasets used and/or analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Funding

This research was funded by the National Key Research and Developmental Program of China (grant no. 2016YFA0601002) and National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant nos. 41672351, 42073076, 419250020).

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Sai-Nan Chen: investigation, data curation, formal analysis, writing original draft. Fu-Jun Yue: conceptualization, supervision, writing, review, and editing. Xiao-Long Liu: formal analysis, methodology, investigation, writing, review, and editing. Jun Zhong: data curation, writing, and review. Yuan-Bi Yi and Yulin Qi: investigation, review, and editing. Wan-Fa Wang: data curation and investigation. Si-Liang Li and Hua-Yun Xiao: conceptualization, supervision, writing, review, and editing.

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Correspondence to Fu-Jun Yue.

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Chen, SN., Yue, FJ., Liu, XL. et al. Seasonal variation of nitrogen biogeochemical processes constrained by nitrate dual isotopes in cascade reservoirs, Southwestern China. Environ Sci Pollut Res (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-021-12505-9

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Keywords

  • Cascade reservoirs
  • Nitrogen cycle
  • Nitrate dual isotopes
  • Wujiang River