• Impact of agronomic practices of an intensive dairy farm on nitrogen concentrations in a karst aquifer in Ireland

      Huebsch, Manuela; Horan, Brendan; Blum, P; Richards, Karl G.; Grant, Jim; Fenton, Owen; Teagasc Walsh Fellowship Programme (Elsevier, 24/09/2013)
      Exploring the relationship between agricultural nitrogen loading on a dairy farm and groundwater reactive nitrogen concentration such as nitrate is particularly challenging in areas underlain by thin soils and karstified limestone aquifers. The objective of this study is to relate changes in detailed agronomic N-loading, local weather conditions, hydrogeological and geological site characteristics with groundwater N occurrence over an 11-year period on an intensive dairy farm with free draining soils and a vulnerable limestone aquifer. In addition, the concept of vertical time lag from source to receptor is considered. Statistical analysis used regression with automatic variable selection. Four scenarios were proposed to describe the relationships between paddock and groundwater wells using topographic and hydrogeological assumptions. Monitored nitrate concentrations in the studied limestone aquifer showed a general decrease in the observed time period (2002–2011). Statistical results showed that a combination of improved agronomic practices and site specific characteristics such as thicknesses of the soil and unsaturated zone together with hydrogeological connections of wells and local weather conditions such as rainfall, sunshine and soil moisture deficit were important explanatory variables for nitrate concentrations. Statistical results suggested that the following agronomic changes improved groundwater quality over the 11-year period: reductions in inorganic fertiliser usage, improvements in timing of slurry application, the movement of a dairy soiled water irrigator to less karstified areas of the farm and the usage of minimum cultivation reseeding on the farm. In many cases the explanatory variables of farm management practices tended to become more important after a 1- or 2-year time lag. Results indicated that the present approach can be used to elucidate the effect of farm management changes to groundwater quality and therefore the assessment of present and future legislation implementations.
    • Mobilisation or dilution? Nitrate response of karst springs to high rainfall events

      Huebsch, Manuela; Fenton, Owen; Horan, Brendan; Hennessy, Deirdre; Richards, Karl G.; Jordan, P.; Goldscheider, N.; Butscher, C.; Blum, P.; Teagasc Walsh Fellowship Programme (European Geosciences Union, 05/11/2014)
      Nitrate (NO3−) contamination of groundwater associated with agronomic activity is of major concern in many countries. Where agriculture, thin free draining soils and karst aquifers coincide, groundwater is highly vulnerable to nitrate contamination. As residence times and denitrification potential in such systems are typically low, nitrate can discharge to surface waters unabated. However, such systems also react quickest to agricultural management changes that aim to improve water quality. In response to storm events, nitrate concentrations can alter significantly, i.e. rapidly decreasing or increasing concentrations. The current study examines the response of a specific karst spring situated on a grassland farm in South Ireland to rainfall events utilising high-resolution nitrate and discharge data together with on-farm borehole groundwater fluctuation data. Specifically, the objectives of the study are to formulate a scientific hypothesis of possible scenarios relating to nitrate responses during storm events, and to verify this hypothesis using additional case studies from the literature. This elucidates the controlling key factors that lead to mobilisation and/or dilution of nitrate concentrations during storm events. These were land use, hydrological condition and karstification, which in combination can lead to differential responses of mobilised and/or diluted nitrate concentrations. Furthermore, the results indicate that nitrate response in karst is strongly dependent on nutrient source, whether mobilisation and/or dilution occur and on the pathway taken. This will have consequences for the delivery of nitrate to a surface water receptor. The current study improves our understanding of nitrate responses in karst systems and therefore can guide environmental modellers, policy makers and drinking water managers with respect to the regulations of the European Union (EU) Water Framework Directive (WFD). In future, more research should focus on the high-resolution monitoring of karst aquifers to capture the high variability of hydrochemical processes, which occur at time intervals of hours to days.
    • Unsaturated zone travel time to groundwater on a vulnerable site

      Richards, Karl G.; Coxon, Catherine E.; Ryan, Michael (Taylor & Francis, 2005)
      A bromide (Br) tracing experiment was conducted to ascertain unsaturated zone travel time to groundwater on a site with a karstified limestone aquifer overlain by a thin free-draining overburden. Br tracer was applied to areas surrounding two boreholes; soil solution and groundwater Br concentrations were monitored. Bromide was first detected after eight and 34 days in the soil solution and groundwater. The quick break-through of the applied Br in the soil solution and groundwater indicates the presence of preferential flow in the soil at this site. The time to maximum groundwater Br concentration supports a dominant matrix flow path through the overburden and then preferential flow through the unsaturated limestone bedrock. The results indicated that the transport of conservative contaminants, such as nitrate, can be expected to occur in a single recharge season. The occurrence of preferential flow raises concerns over rapid transport of non-conservative contaminants such as faecal coliforms and this merits further investigation.