The role of seasonal and hydrological conditions in regulating dissolved inorganic nitrogen budgets in a forested catchment in SW Slovenia

Sci Total Environ. 2017 Jan 1;575:1109-1118. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.09.178. Epub 2016 Sep 28.


During two consecutive years the monitoring of rainfall nitrate (NO3-) and ammonium (NH4+) concentrations, combined with high-frequency measurements of streamwater NO3- concentrations, provided insight into the mechanisms controlling the dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) budgets of the forested Padež stream catchment in SW Slovenia. During both years, the catchment's annual wet atmospheric DIN deposition (12.6 and 13.8kg-N/ha) exceeded the annual DIN export (10.7kg-N/ha and 8.8kg-N/ha). The analysis of the monthly DIN budgets discloses seasonal patterns. In winter and early spring, the catchment behaves as a net source of DIN, whereas during late spring, summer, and early fall the catchment generally behaves as a net sink of the atmospheric DIN. Due to large evapotranspiration in the growth period, most of the DIN remains in the catchment and is flushed during the dormant season. Despite high evapotranspiration and consequently low runoff coefficients characteristic for the Mediterranean climate, large rainfall events in the growth period can cause intensive washout of DIN from the catchment. At a monthly basis, the DIN flushing might exceed the catchment's DIN retention capacity and the catchment might behave as a net source of DIN. Therefore, the hydrological conditions have the ability to shift the catchment's role in regulating the DIN budgets. The high responsiveness of the streamwater NO3- concentration in the growth period indicates a large pool of DIN in the forest soils which can become mobile by runoff formation. Wet atmospheric DIN deposition at the Padež catchment is considerable; highest DIN inputs can be expected when air masses approach the catchment from the southwest to southeast where there are extensive urban areas along the Italian, Slovenian and Croatian coast. However, the Padež catchment does not appear to be approaching N saturation, presumably due to strong internal N cycle in the forest soils.

Keywords: Catchment budgets; Dissolved inorganic nitrogen; Flushing; Runoff formation; Seasonality; Wet deposition.