Identifying a rainfall event threshold triggering herbicide leaching by preferential flow

G. S. McGrath, C. Hinz, M. Sivapalan, J. Dressel, T. Pütz, H. Vereecken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How can leaching risk be assessed if the chemical flux and/or the toxicity is highly uncertain? For many strongly sorbing pesticides it is known that their transport through the unsaturated zone occurs intermittently through preferential flow, triggered by significant rainfall events. In these circumstances the timing and frequency of these rainfall events may allow quantification of leaching risk to overcome the limitations of flux prediction. In this paper we analyze the leaching behavior of bromide and two herbicides, methabenzthiazuron and ethidimuron, using data from twelve uncropped lysimeters, with high-resolution climate data, in order to identify the rainfall controls on rapid solute leaching. A regression tree analysis suggested that a coarse-scale fortnightly to monthly water balance was a good predictor of short-term increases in drainage and bromide transport. Significant short-term herbicide leaching, however, was better predicted by the occurrence of a single storm with a depth greater than a 19 mm thre shold. Sampling periods where rain events exceeded this threshold accounted for between 38% and 56% of the total mass of herbicides leached during the experiment. The same threshold only accounted for between 1% and 10% of the total mass of bromide leached. On the basis of these results, we conclude that in this system, the leaching risks of strongly sorbing chemicals can be quantified by the timing and frequency of these large rainfall events. Empirical and modeling approaches are suggested to apply this frequentist approach to leaching risk assessment to other soil-climate systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberW02513
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology

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