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Temporal and spatial structures of denitrification in crystalline aquifers

Abstract : Unconfined shallow aquifers in agricultural areas are contaminated by nitrates worldwide. Excessive fertilization over the last decades has affected groundwater quality as well as human and ecosystem wellbeing. Nitrate in groundwater can be microbially reduced to dinitrogen gas by heterotrophic (microbes obtaining their energy from surface-derived organic carbon) and autotrophic (microbes obtaining their energy from a lithological source) processes. However, denitrification rates are highly spatially variable, following involved interactions between groundwater flow structures and biogeochemical activity. The location of biogeochemical activity in the aquifer is difficult to access at the catchment scale, but of vast importance to gain predictive capabilities for groundwater management. Even though microbial processes cannot be resolved at the local scale, this dissertation proposes a catchment scale characterization of denitrification rates based on an integrated model- and data-driven approach. The dissertation proposes an extensive use of conservative and reactive tracers combined with groundwater flow and transport models to identify the geological and biogeochemical controls on aquifer denitrification capacities. The methodology is applied to a crystalline unconfined aquifer of 76 km2 size in Brittany, France. Based on CFC-12, O2, NO3-, and dissolved N2 concentrations measured in 16 wells, it is possible to reconstruct historical nitrate inputs to the saturated zone and to define spatiotemporal denitrification activity. It is shown that denitrification is primarily controlled by the location of electron donors. The dissertation proposes a general interpretation framework based on tracer information combined with complementary semi-explicit lumped parameter models to assess regional denitrification capacities and nitrate legacy.
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Submitted on : Friday, January 12, 2018 - 3:28:00 PM
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Tamara Kolbe. Temporal and spatial structures of denitrification in crystalline aquifers. Earth Sciences. Université Rennes 1, 2017. English. ⟨NNT : 2017REN1S048⟩. ⟨tel-01682867⟩

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