Drying-rewetting cycles affect nitrate removal rates in woodchip bioreactors

Bryan M. Maxwell, François Birgand, Louis A. Schipper, Laura E. Christianson, Shiying Tian, Matthew J. Helmers, David J. Williams, George M. Chescheir, Mohamed A. Youssef

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Woodchip bioreactors are widely used to control nitrogen export from agriculture using denitrification. There is abundant evidence that drying-rewetting (DRW) cycles can promote enhanced metabolic rates in soils. A 287-d experiment investigated the effects of weekly DRW cycles on nitrate (NO3) removal in woodchip columns in the laboratory receiving constant flow of nitrated water. Columns were exposed to continuous saturation (SAT) or to weekly, 8-h drying-rewetting (8 h of aerobiosis followed by saturation) cycles (DRW). Nitrate concentrations were measured at the column outlets every 2 h using novel multiplexed sampling methods coupled to spectrophotometric analysis. Drying-rewetting columns showed greater export of total and dissolved organic carbon and increased NO3 removal rates. Nitrate removal rates in DRW columns increased by up to 80%, relative to SAT columns, although DRW removal rates decreased quickly within 3 d after rewetting. Increased NO3 removal in DRW columns continued even after 39 DRW cycles, with ~33% higher total NO3 mass removed over each weekly DRW cycle. Data collected in this experiment provide strong evidence that DRW cycles can dramatically improve NO3 removal in woodchip bioreactors, with carbon availability being a likely driver of improved efficiency. These results have implications for hydraulic management of woodchip bioreactors and other denitrification practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)93-101
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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