Effect of tillage on macropore flow and phosphorus transport to tile drains

Mark R. Williams, Kevin W. King, William Ford, Anthony R. Buda, Casey D. Kennedy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

110 Scopus citations


Elevated phosphorus (P) concentrations in subsurface drainage water are thought to be the result of P bypassing the soil matrix via macropore flow. The objectives of this study were to quantify event water delivery to tile drains via macropore flow paths during storm events and to determine the effect of tillage practices on event water and P delivery to tiles. Tile discharge, total dissolved P (DP) and total P (TP) concentrations, and stable oxygen and deuterium isotopic signatures were measured from two adjacent tile-drained fields in Ohio, USA during seven spring storms. Fertilizer was surface-applied to both fields and disk tillage was used to incorporate the fertilizer on one field while the other remained in no-till. Median DP concentration in tile discharge prior to fertilizer application was 0.08 mg L-1 in both fields. Following fertilizer application, median DP concentration was significantly greater in the no-tilled field (1.19 mg L-1) compared to the tilled field (0.66 mg L-1), with concentrations remaining significantly greater in the no-till field for the remainder of the monitored storms. Both DP and TP concentrations in the no-till field were significantly related to event water contributions to tile discharge, while only TP concentration was significantly related to event water in the tilled field. Event water accounted for between 26 and 69% of total tile discharge from both fields, but tillage substantially reduced maximum contributions of event water. Collectively, these results suggest that incorporating surface-applied fertilizers has the potential to substantially reduce the risk of P transport from tile-drained fields.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2868-2882
Number of pages15
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.


  • event water
  • isotope hydrograph separation
  • preferential flow
  • subsurface
  • water quality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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