Articles | Volume 14, issue 4
Research article
20 Feb 2017
Research article |  | 20 Feb 2017

Isotopic composition of nitrate and particulate organic matter in a pristine dam reservoir of western India: implications for biogeochemical processes

Pratirupa Bardhan, Syed Wajih Ahmad Naqvi, Supriya G. Karapurkar, Damodar M. Shenoy, Siby Kurian, and Hema Naik

Abstract. Isotopic composition of nitrate (δ15N and δ18O) and particulate organic matter (POM; δ15N and δ13C) were measured in the Tillari Reservoir, located at the foothills of the Western Ghats, Maharashtra, western India. The reservoir, which is stratified during spring–summer and autumn seasons but gets vertically mixed during the southwest monsoon (SWM) and winter, is characterized by diverse redox nitrogen transformations in space and time. The δ15N and δ18O values of nitrate were low (δ15N  =  2–10 ‰, δ18O  =  5–8 ‰) during normoxic conditions but increased gradually (the highest at δ15N  =  27 ‰, δ18O  =  29 ‰) when anoxic conditions facilitated denitrification in the hypolimnion during spring–early summer. Once nitrate was fully utilized and sulfidic conditions set in, NH4+ became the dominant inorganic N species, with δ15N ranging from 1.3 to 2.6 ‰. Low δ15N (∼ −5 ‰) and δ13C (−37 to −32 ‰) of POM co-occurring with high NH4+ and CH4 in sulfidic bottom waters were probably the consequence of microbial chemosynthesis. Assimilation of nitrate in the epilimnion was the major controlling process on the N isotopic composition of POM (δ15N  =  2–6 ‰). Episodic low δ15N values of POM (−2 to 0 ‰) during early summer, coinciding with the absence of nitrate, might arise from N fixation, although further work is required to confirm the hypothesis. δ13C POM in the photic zone ranged between −29 and −27 ‰ for most parts of the year. The periods of mixing were characterized by uniform δ15N–NO3 and δ18O–NO3 at all depths. Higher POM (particulate organic carbon, POC, as well as particulate organic nitrogen, PON) contents and C ∕ N values with lower δ13C POM during the SWM point to allochthonous inputs. Overall, this study, the first of its kind in the Indian subcontinent, provides an insight into biogeochemistry of Indian reservoirs, using stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes as a tool, where the monsoons play an important role in controlling vertical mixing and dynamics of carbon and nutrients.

Short summary
Although India has the third highest number of dams globally, there is a knowledge gap on the cycling of bioessential elements in such systems. This study (first of its kind) investigates the stable isotopes of nitrate and particulate organic matter in a pristine Indian reservoir. Nitrogen transformations in the anaerobic bottom waters were isotopically characterised. Overall, solar intensity, water depth and redox conditions are the major controls on the biogeochemical cycling in this system.
Final-revised paper