Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

What are the prospects for sustaining high-quality groundwater?

20.12.2011
Intensive agriculture practices developed during the past century have helped improve food security for many people but have also added to nitrate pollution in surface and groundwaters. New research has looked at water quality measurement over the last 140 years to track this problem in the Thames River basin.

The NERC-funded study, led by the University of Bristol's Department of Civil Engineering, has looked at nitrate transport from agricultural land to water in the Thames basin. The team used a simple model to estimate the amount of nitrate able to leach from soils to the groundwater based on land use practices along with an algorithm that determined the route nitrate would take to reach surface or groundwater from agricultural areas.

The Thames River catchment provides a good study example because the water quality in the river, which supplies drinking water to millions of people, has been monitored for the past 140 years, and the region has undergone significant agricultural development over the past century.

The study found that nitrate concentrations in the Thames rose significantly during and after World War II to about double their previous level, then increased again in the early 1970s. Nitrite concentrations have remained at that high level even though nitrate from inputs from agriculture declined from the late 1970s to early 2000s.

The researchers observed it takes some time for nitrate to reach the river, and their analysis suggests that the jump in nitrate concentrations from 1968 to 1972 is due to the delayed groundwater response to ploughing of permanent grasslands during World War II.

Dr Nicholas Howden, Senior Lecturer in Water in the Department of Civil Engineering, who led the research, said: "Balancing the needs for agriculture and clean groundwater for drinking requires understanding factors such as the routes by which nitrate enters the water supply and how long it takes to get there.

"Our results suggest it could take several decades for any reduction in nitrate concentrations of river water and groundwater, following significant change in land management practices."

Co-author of the research paper, Dr Fred Worrall in the Department of Earth Sciences at Durham University, added: "The 60s and 70s saw a gradual intensification of food crop production and consequent nitrate release from the land. If your input is dispersed, your output is dispersed; if your input is sharp, your output is sharp. The aquifer is just transporting it; it's not processing it. The nitrate comes through as a pulse."

Co-author, Professor Tim Burt in the Department of Geography at Durham University, said: "You can work out the budget, and there is a phenomenal amount of nitrogen accumulating somewhere in the Thames basin. We don't know where and we don't know in what form, but it represents a potential legacy for a long time. The effects of land-use changes can take decades to filter through the river basin and this has major implications for policies to manage rivers."

The researchers found that any solution to the nitrate issue will require a long-term vision for water-quality remediation. In terms of sustainable groundwater, there seem to be no ''quick fixes'' and if groundwater nitrate concentrations continue to rise in the UK the worst may be yet to come.

The study could help water and land management planners identify practices that best preserve both agricultural production and water quality.

Paper: Nitrate pollution in intensively farmed regions: What are the prospects for sustaining high-quality groundwater?, Nicholas J K Howden, Tim P Burt, Fred Worrall, Simon Mathias, and Mick J Whelan, Water Resources Research, Vol 47, 12 November, 2011

Joanne Fryer | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.bristol.ac.uk

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Scientists produce a new roadmap for guiding development & conservation in the Amazon
09.12.2016 | Wildlife Conservation Society

nachricht Successful calculation of human and natural influence on cloud formation
04.11.2016 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Electron highway inside crystal

Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.

Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers identify potentially druggable mutant p53 proteins that promote cancer growth

09.12.2016 | Life Sciences

Scientists produce a new roadmap for guiding development & conservation in the Amazon

09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

Satellites, airport visibility readings shed light on troops' exposure to air pollution

09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>