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Evidence of soil pollution by nitrates derived from pig effluent using 18O and 15N isotope analyses

Payet N., Nicolini E., Rogers K., Saint Macary H., Vauclin M.. 2010. Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 30 (4) : p. 743-751.

In Réunion Island, expanding human populations, urbanization and agriculture during the last 50 years have all contributed to a steady increase in the level of nitrates in drinking water. Various nitrate point sources are responsible for the nitrate contamination around the island including chemical fertilizers, animal effluent applied to pasture and crops, and urban waste such as sewage and domestic waste water. In terms of agricultural fertilizers, pig effluent is the most widely used, but the cumulative effects of slurry applications on soil water and groundwater are unknown. Our objectives were (1) to characterize and follow in situ the fate of nitrogen through the subsurface after application of pig effluent onto a cultivated soil using stable nitrate isotopes, 15N and 18O, and (2) to compare the isotopic signatures of Réunion Island's principal aquifers with results from the experimental site to infer potential contamination sources. The study was conducted on an experimental field site planted with maize in the western part of Réunion Island during the rainy season. A control site with no fertilizer application to the maize was compared with the investigation site which had pig effluent applied once a year. The site which had pig effluent applied over one year had an average maximum surface soil water 15N-NO-3 value of +9.0% at 0.45 m depth. This signature was significantly more enriched in 15N than the corresponding subsurface soil water 15N-NO? 3 value of +3.8%_ at 10 m depth. The control site average maximum surface soil water 15N-NO? 3 value of +3.6%_ at 0.45 m is similar to the subsurface pig effluent application plot. This indicates that nitrates derived from pig effluent have not reached 10 m depth in the subsurface, even though over the last 18 months this site was subjected to two effluent applications, each around 200 kg N ha?1, and more than 1900 mm of rain, more than half of which drains directly into the root zone. This slow migration shows that mobilization of nitrates through cultivated soil can take many tens of years before infiltrating and contaminating the saturated zone situated at several tens, and in places, hundreds of meters depth. On an island-wide scale, an isotopic assessment of nitrates from the experimental site's soil water and other drinking water wells highlights a nitrogenous contaminations derived primarily from urban and/or agriculture via effluent application. (Résumé d'auteur)

Mots-clés : lisier; réunion

Thématique : Pollution; Elevage - Considérations générales; Chimie et physique du sol

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