Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-2017-212
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-2017-212
12 Jun 2017
 | 12 Jun 2017
Status: this preprint has been retracted.

Evidence for microbial mediated nitrate cycling within floodplain sediments during groundwater fluctuations

Nicholas J. Bouskill, Mark E. Conrad, Markus Bill, Eoin L. Brodie, Yiwei Cheng, Chad Hobson, Matthew Forbes, Karen L. Casciotti, and Kenneth H. Williams

Abstract. The capillary fringe is a subsurface terrestrial-aquatic interface which can be a significant hotspot for biogeochemical cycling of terrestrially derived organic matter and nutrients. However, pathways of nitrogen (N) cycling within this environment are poorly understood, and observations of temporally discrete changes in nitrate concentrations lack the necessary resolution to partition between biotic or abiotic mechanisms. Here we take an experimental and mechanistic modeling approach to characterize the annual decline of nitrate (NO3) within floodplain sediments at Rifle, Colorado. At discrete sampling points during 2014 we measured NO3, ammonia (NH4+), gaseous nitrous oxide (N2O) and the corresponding isotopic composition of NO3. Coincident with an annual spring/summer excursion in groundwater elevation driven by snowmelt, we observed a rapid decline in NO3 concentrations at three depths (2, 2.5 and 3 m) below the ground surface. Isotopic measurements (i.e., δ15N and δ18O of NO3) suggest an immediate onset of biological N loss at 2 m. At 2.5 and 3 m, NO3 concentrations declined initially with no observable isotopic response, indicating an initial dilution of NO3 within the well. Following extended saturation by groundwater at these depths we observed subsequent nitrate reduction. A simple Rayleigh model suggests depth-dependent variability in the importance of actively fractionating mechanisms (i.e., nitrate reduction) relative to non-fractionating mechanisms (mixing and dilution). Nitrate reduction was calculated to be responsible for 64 % of the NO3 decline at 2 m, 28 % at 2.5 and 47 % at 3 m, respectively. Furthermore, we observed the highest concentrations of N2O as groundwater saturated the 2 and 2.5 m depth, concomitant with enrichment of the δ15NNO3 and δ18ONO3. A mechanistic microbial model representing the diverse physiology of nitrifiers, facultative aerobes (including denitrifiers), and anammox bacteria indicates that the bulk of biological N loss within the capillary fringe is attributable to denitrifying heterotrophs. However, this relationship is dependent on the coupling between aerobic and anaerobic microbial guilds at the oxic-anoxic interface. Modeling insights also suggest that anammox might play a more prominent role in N loss under conditions where organic matter concentrations are low and rapidly depleted by aerobic heterotrophs prior to the rise of the water table.

This preprint has been retracted.

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Nicholas J. Bouskill, Mark E. Conrad, Markus Bill, Eoin L. Brodie, Yiwei Cheng, Chad Hobson, Matthew Forbes, Karen L. Casciotti, and Kenneth H. Williams

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Interactive discussion

Status: closed
Status: closed
AC: Author comment | RC: Referee comment | SC: Short comment | EC: Editor comment
Printer-friendly Version - Printer-friendly version Supplement - Supplement
Nicholas J. Bouskill, Mark E. Conrad, Markus Bill, Eoin L. Brodie, Yiwei Cheng, Chad Hobson, Matthew Forbes, Karen L. Casciotti, and Kenneth H. Williams
Nicholas J. Bouskill, Mark E. Conrad, Markus Bill, Eoin L. Brodie, Yiwei Cheng, Chad Hobson, Matthew Forbes, Karen L. Casciotti, and Kenneth H. Williams

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This preprint has been retracted.

Short summary
This work couples isotope geochemical techniques with mechanistic microbial modeling in an attempt to further unravel the major factors responsible for an observed reduction in nitrate concomitant with a rising water table within floodplain sediments. We focus on 3 depths below ground surface with different periods of saturation and varying degrees of microbial nitrate loss. Using a microbial model we identify the controlling factors on denitrification responsible for these differences.
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