Influence of Antecedent Soil Moisture and Rainfall Rate on the Leaching of Nitrate and Phosphate from Intact Monoliths of Agricultural Soil
Lewis, Miranda Paige Linscott
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The export of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) from agricultural catchments is a major problem worldwide. The export of these nutrients is largely driven by storm events, and the hydrologic response of catchments varies within and between storm events. Antecedent soil moisture and rainfall rates have both been shown to affect the discharge and nutrient export from agricultural catchments, but their relationship to nutrient export is not fully understood. Currently, there are no studies that examine the leaching of both nitrate and phosphate from soil pools under the combined influence of differences in soil moisture and rainfall rates. The objectives of this study were to examine the combined effect of antecedent soil moisture and rainfall rates on the hydrologic response of soil and the export of nitrate and phosphate from the soil. The approach used intact soil monoliths in two experiments to first characterize the hydrologic response of the soil, and secondly to assess how the hydrologic response of the soil affects the leaching of nitrate and phosphate from soil pools. Differences in antecedent soil moisture and rainfall rates influenced both the amount of discharge and the hydrologic flow paths in the soil. As was expected, antecedent soil moisture governed the depth of discharge, with more discharge (runoff ratios= 0.89 to 0.91) produced by wet soil and the least runoff produced by dry soil (runoff ratios= 0.08 to 0.14) although this was not affected by the rainfall rate. Instead, rainfall rates predominantly affected hydrologic flow paths in the soil, with preferential flow at the beginning of the leaching period under high intensity rainfall (especially in wet soil), and predominantly matrix flow occurring under low intensity rainfall. The rainfall intensity did not appear to affect discharge volume. The mass of both nitrate and phosphate exported was higher under low intensity rainfall, ranging from 11.2 to 60.1mg/mU+00B2 and 77 to 4980μg/mU+00B2, respectively and from 0.9 to 34.4mg/mU+00B2 and 18.4 to 732μg/mU+00B2, respectively under high intensity rainfall. Antecedent soil moisture was significantly positively correlated with the depth of discharge produced, which also had a significant positive relationship with the mass of nitrate and phosphate exported (Spearman’s ρ= 0.75 to 0.81, p= <0.001), with greater masses of both nutrients exported from wet soil than dry soil. Soil moisture had contrasting influences on the nitrate concentrations in leachate, where nitrate concentrations and soil moisture were negatively related under low intensity rainfall and positively related under high intensity rainfall. Concentrations of phosphate in leachate were more variable, with no clear relationship to soil moisture, discharge, rainfall rate or soil phosphate pools. Antecedent soil moisture and the rainfall rate have a combined influence on the concentration of nitrate in leachate and an influence on the mass of both nitrate and phosphate exported. Although different hydrologic flow paths (matrix, preferential) were observed under the variable antecedent conditions and rainfall rates, this did not appear to affect nutrient fluxes from soil. This may be related to available nutrient pools and distributions in the soil in the current study. Understanding of the influence of flow types on the export of soil nutrient pools requires further study in a lab and a comparison of the breakthrough of nitrate and phosphate from soil pools with that of a conservative tracer (chloride). Nutrient and tracer breakthrough could then be compared to the hydraulic conductivity of the soil and the progression of the wetting front to fully understand the flow paths occurring and their effect on nutrient leaching.