Nitrate sources and the effect of land cover on the isotopic composition of nitrate in the catchment of the Rhône River. uri icon


  • The Rhône River originates in the high Alps and drains an intensely cultivated and industrialised catchment before it discharges to the Gulf of Lion. We investigated the interaction of catchment geomorphology with nitrate sources (atmosphere, agriculture, and nitrification of soil organic matter) and removal processes in large and diverse watersheds on the basis of dual nitrate isotope signatures in river water.In March 2015, we took surface water samples along the Rhône River, including its main tributaries, and measured nutrient concentrations and the stable isotopic composition of nitrate (?15N, ?18O and ?17O), and water (?18O-H2O).Results show that high altitude regions are dominated by nitrate from nitrification in pristine soils and atmospheric deposition, while nitrate in the downstream Rhône River originates mainly from nitrification of agricultural/urban sources. Parallel increases in ?15N and ?18O reflect the influence of primary production. Previous studies suggested robust correlations between land use and [Formula: see text]. Based on our observation that nitrate ?15N values at higher altitudes are lower than expected, we assume that lower nitrate ?15N values likely reflect limited nitrate consumption and lower soil nitrogen turnover rates. We propose that correlation between land use and nitrate ?15N is sensitive to slope and geomorphology.

publication date

  • March 2020