Spatial and temporal variability of nitrogen load from catchment and retention along a river network: a case study in the upper Xin'anjiang catchment of China

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Courtesy of IWA Publishing

Understanding the spatial and temporal variability of nitrogen load and characteristics of retention along a river network is important for land management and water resources protection. This study employs a geomorphology-based non-point source pollution model (GBNP) to simulate the hillslope hydrological processes and transport of sediment and pollutants in the upper Xin'anjiang (XAJ) catchment. Based on the simulation, the spatial and temporal distribution of total nitrogen (TN) load from hillslopes and retention characteristics along the river network are analyzed. The results indicate that annual TN load ranges from 0.54 ton/km2 to 1.88 ton/km2 and is relatively higher during spring and summer. Average TN load positively correlates with irrigated cropland area (r =0.820) and negatively correlates with forest (r = −0.43). Seasonal TN retention ratios in the river network range from 0% to 81%, and streams of order 1 in the Horton–Strahler system have the highest retention ratio and are followed by orders 2, 3, and 4, which are mainly determined by the river hydraulic properties. Results of scenarios analysis demonstrate that TN retention ratios in the river network increase with TN load from hillslopes, but reach a maximum value rapidly, which indicates the limitation of the self-purification capacity of rivers.

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