Dynamics of nitrate and chloride during storm events in agricultural catchments with different subsurface drainage intensity (Indiana, USA)

Casey D. Kennedy, Clement Bataille, Zhongfang Liu, Srinivasulu Ale, Justin VanDeVelde, Charles R. Roswell, Laura C. Bowling, Gabriel J. Bowen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Drainage tiles buried beneath many naturally poorly drained agricultural fields in the Midwestern U.S. are believed to "short circuit" pools of NO3--laden soil water and shallow groundwater directly into streams that eventually discharge to the Mississippi River. Although much is known about the mechanisms controlling this regionally pervasive practice of artificial drainage at the field-plot scale, an integrative assessment of the effect of drainage density (i.e., the number of tile drains per unit area) on the transport of nutrients and solutes in streams at the catchment scale is lacking. In this study, we quantified the flux and hydrological pathways of agricultural NO3- and road-salt Cl - from catchments lying within the Wabash River Basin, a major source of NO3- to the Mississippi River. The paired catchments differ primarily in drainage density (70% vs. 31%, by catchment area), with essentially all other agricultural management, land use, and soil drainage characteristics remaining equal. Our study revealed two significant hydrological responses to increased drainage density: (1) more near-surface storm event water (dilute in both NO3-andCl-) was transported early in the storm and (2) higher transport of Cl --laden pre-event soil water relative to shallow groundwater elevated in NO3- occurred later in the storm. These patterns are consistent with a proposed conceptual model in which increased drainage density results in (1) greater transport of soil water to streams and (2) a delayed rise in the water table. With respect to nutrient management implications, these results indicate that increased drainage density impacts subsurface pools of Cl - and NO3- differently, a finding that we propose is linked to soil/ground water dynamics in artificially drained agricultural catchments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Hydrology
StatePublished - Oct 12 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Agriculture
  • Hydrograph separation
  • Nitrogen
  • Stable isotopes
  • Storm
  • Tile drainage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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