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Quantification and Modeling of In-Stream Processes in Agricultural canals of the lower coastal plain

Abstract : Excess nutrient loads have been recognized to be the major cause of serious water quality problems recently encountered in the North Carolina estuaries and coastal waters. There has been a particular concern in coastal watersheds because agricultural and forested lands are located in close proximity to recreational and environmentally sensitive waters. The key to nutrient management at the watershed scale is the understanding and quantification of the fate of nutrients at the field scale and after they enter the aquatic environment. There is no accepted method to describe and predict fate of nutrients in canals and streams. The purpose of this research was to investigate the magnitude of the effects of in-stream processes in agricultural canals of the lower coastal plain and to propose a modeling approach for quantifying nitrogen transformations in such canals. This was accomplished in four steps. The first step was an extensive review of the literature on nitrogen retention in agricultural streams. Nitrogen removal rates in most agricultural canals and streams vary between 50 and 800 mg N/m²/d, with mass transfer coefficient varying between 0.01 and 0.10 m/d. The magnitude of nitrogen retention in streams and canals of agricultural watersheds has been reported to vary between less than 5% to more the 60% of the gross load. In the second step, the effects of biogeochemical processes on chemical and nutrient loads was evaluated in a 1125-m long agricultural canal reach of the lower coastal plain near the town of Plymouth, NC. Chemical and nutrient loads at both ends of the reach were measured by continuous measurement of flow and concentrations. Flow measurements were made using trapezoidal flumes in which flow velocity and depth was continuously measured and recorded with velocity meters. Nutrient concentrations were measured on water samples taken both manually and automatically at strategic times along the hydrographs so that linear interpolation between two consecutive samples could be made. Nutrient addition due to seepage along the reach was estimated. After corrections for lateral contribution, it was estimated that, over the 14-month measuring campaign, 3% of the total nitrogen load entering the upstream end was retained within the reach. This was mostly due to the combination of nitrate retention and release of organic nitrogen (ON) within the reach. Up to 10.2 % of the total phosphorus load measured at the upstream station was retained while 10% of the total suspended solids was also retained. There was a release of inorganic carbon equal to 18.7% more that the load measured at the upstream end. Measurements of algae and macrophyte biomass within the reach, and, measurements of nitrogen and carbon concentration profiles at the sediment-water interface revealed that most of nitrate retention was likely due to denitrification after diffusion from the water-column to the sediment. Release of organic nitrogen was attributed to flux of refractory organic nitrogen from the sediment into the water-column. Assimilation by algae and macrophytes may have accounted for as much as 20% of the total retention of inorganic nitrogen. Rates of nitrate removal and release of organic nitrogen were estimated using the model DUFLOW. Nitrate removal rates varied between 200 and 800 mg NO3-N/m²/d, while release rates of organic nitrogen varied between 100 and 400 mg ON/m²/d. A mass transfer coefficient of 0.3 m/d was obtained for nitrate at two distinct periods of the year. A simple approach was proposed for modeling nitrogen transformations in canals of the lower coastal plain. Transformations are simplified as the combination of downward diffusion of water-column nitrate into the sediment and an upward diffusion of organic nitrogen from the sediment.
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Contributor : François Birgand <>
Submitted on : Tuesday, July 18, 2006 - 5:00:23 PM
Last modification on : Wednesday, August 21, 2019 - 10:38:02 AM
Long-term archiving on: : Tuesday, April 6, 2010 - 12:16:20 AM


  • HAL Id : tel-00086471, version 1



François Birgand. Quantification and Modeling of In-Stream Processes in Agricultural canals of the lower coastal plain. Hydrology. North Carolina State University, 2000. English. ⟨tel-00086471⟩



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