Understanding the physics of nitrate contamination in surface and subsurface water is vital for mitigating downstream water quality impairment. Though high frequency sensor data have become readily available and computational models more accessible, the integration of these two methods for improved prediction is underdeveloped. The objective of this study was to utilize high-frequency data to advance our understanding and model representation of nitrate transport for an agricultural karst spring in Kentucky, USA. We collected 2-years of 15-min nitrate and specific conductance data and analyzed source-timing dynamics across dozens of events to develop a conceptual model for nitrate hysteresis in karst. Thereafter, we used the sensing data, specifically discharge-concentration indices, to constrain modeled nitrate prediction bounds as well as the uncertainty of hydrologic and nitrogen processes, such as soil percolation and biogeochemical transformation. Observed nitrate hysteresis behavior at the spring was complex and included clockwise (n = 11), counterclockwise (n = 13), and figure-eight (n = 10) shapes, which contrasts with surface systems that are often dominated by a single hysteresis shape. Sensing results highlight the importance of antecedent connectivity to nitrate-rich storages in determining the timing of nitrate delivery to the spring. After integrating hysteresis analysis into our numerical model evaluation, simulated nitrate prediction bounds were reduced by 43 ± 12% and parameter uncertainty by 36 ± 20%. Taken together, this study suggests that discharge-concentration indices derived from high-frequency sensor data can be successfully integrated into numerical models to improve process representation and reduce modeled uncertainty.
|Journal||Water Resources Research|
|State||Published - Jan 2023|
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank the associate editor and three anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments, which have substantially improved the quality of this manuscript. We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of this research from the Kentucky Senate Bill 271B Water Quality Program and National Science Foundation Awards 1632888 and 1933779.
© 2023. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Water Science and Technology