Accurately quantifying and predicting the reactive transport of nitrate ((Formula presented.)) in hydrologic systems continues to be a challenge, due to the complex hydrological and biogeochemical interactions that underlie this transport. Recent advances related to time-variant water age have led to a new method that probes water mixing and selection behaviors using StorAge Selection (SAS) functions. In this study, SAS functions were applied to investigate storage, water selection behaviors, and (Formula presented.) export regimes in a tile-drained corn-soybean field. The natural abundance stable nitrogen and oxygen isotopes of tile drainage (Formula presented.) were also measured to provide constraints on biogeochemical (Formula presented.) transformations. The SAS functions, calibrated using chloride measurements at tile drain outlets, revealed a strong young water preference during tile discharge generation. The use of a time-variant SAS function for tile discharge generated unique water age dynamics that reveal an inverse storage effect driven by the activation of preferential flow paths and mechanically explain the observed variations in (Formula presented.) isotopes. Combining the water age estimates with (Formula presented.) isotope fingerprinting shed new light on (Formula presented.) export dynamics at the tile-drain scale, where a large mixing volume and the lack of a strong vertical contrast in (Formula presented.) concentration resulted in chemostatic export regimes. For the first time, (Formula presented.) isotopes were embedded into a water age-based transport model to model reactive (Formula presented.) transport under transient conditions. The results of this modeling study provided a proof-of-concept for the potential of coupling water age modeling with (Formula presented.) isotope analysis to elucidate the mechanisms driving reactive (Formula presented.) transport.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2023WR034948
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2023


  • export regime
  • nitrate isotopes
  • SAS function
  • tile drainage
  • water age

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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