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Title (Primary) Multi-species measurements of nitrogen isotopic composition reveal the spatial constraints and biological drivers of ammonium attenuation across a highly contaminated groundwater system
Author Wells, N.S.; Hakoun, V.; Brouyère, S.; Knöller, K.;
Journal Water Research
Year 2016
Department CATHYD;
Volume 98
Language englisch;
POF III (all) T34;
Keywords Ammonium attenuation; Groundwater; Industrial pollution; Nitrate reduction; Nitrite reduction; Stable isotopes
UFZ wide themes RU2;
Abstract

Groundwater under industrial sites is characterised by heterogeneous chemical mixtures, making it difficult to assess the fate and transport of individual contaminants. Quantifying the in-situ biological removal (attenuation) of nitrogen (N) is particularly difficult due to its reactivity and ubiquity. Here a multi-isotope approach is developed to distinguish N sources and sinks within groundwater affected by complex industrial pollution. Samples were collected from 70 wells across the two aquifers underlying a historic industrial area in Belgium. Below the industrial site the groundwater contained up to 1000 mg N l−1 ammonium (NH4+) and 300 mg N l−1 nitrate (NO3), while downgradient concentrations decreased to 1 mg l−1 DIN ([DIN] = [NH4+-N]+NO3--N]+NO2--N]. Mean δ15N-DIN increased from 2 to +20 over this flow path, broadly confirming that biological N attenuation drove the measured concentration decrease. Multi-variate analysis of water chemistry identified two distinct NH4+ sources (δ15N-NH4+ from −14‰ and +5‰) within the contaminated zone of both aquifers. Nitrate dual isotopes co-varied (δ15N: −3‰ – +60‰; δ18O: 0‰ – +50‰) within the range expected for coupled nitrification and denitrification of the identified sources. The fact that δ15N-NO2 values were 50‰–20‰ less than δ15N-NH4+ values in the majority of wells confirmed that nitrification controlled N turnover across the site. However, the fact that δ15N-NO2 was greater than δ15N-NH4+ in wells with the highest [NH4+] shows that an autotrophic NO2 reduction pathway (anaerobic NH4+ oxidation or nitrifier-denitrification) drove N attenuation closest to the contaminant plume. This direct empirical evidence that both autotrophic and heterotrophic biogeochemical processes drive N attenuation in contaminated aquifers demonstrates the power of multiple N isotopes to untangle N cycling in highly complex systems.

ID 17525
Persistent UFZ Identifier https://www.ufz.de/index.php?en=20939&ufzPublicationIdentifier=17525
Wells, N.S., Hakoun, V., Brouyère, S., Knöller, K. (2016):
Multi-species measurements of nitrogen isotopic composition reveal the spatial constraints and biological drivers of ammonium attenuation across a highly contaminated groundwater system
Water Res. 98 , 363 - 375