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Runoff- and erosion-driven transport of cattle slurry: linking molecular tracers to hydrological processes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16603-16644
Number of pages42
JournalBiogeosciences Discussions
Volume12
Issue number20
DOIs
DateAccepted/In press - 26 Sep 2015
DatePublished (current) - 16 Oct 2015

Abstract

The addition of cattle slurry to agricultural land is a widespread practise, but if not correctly managed it can pose a contamination risk to aquatic ecosystems. The transport of inorganic and organic components of cattle slurry to watercourses is a major concern, yet little is known about the physical transport mechanisms and associated fluxes and timings of contamination threats. Therefore, the aim of the study was to ascertain the importance of flow pathway partitioning in the transport (fluxes and timing) of dissolved and particulate slurry-derived compounds with implications for off-site contamination. A series of rainfall–runoff and erosion experiments were carried out using the TRACE (Test Rig for Advancing Connectivity Experiments) experimental hillslope facility. The experiments allowed the quantification of the impact of changing slope gradient and rainfall intensity on nutrient transport from cattle slurry applied to the hillslope, via surface, subsurface, and vertical percolated flow pathways, as well as particulate transport from erosion. The dissolved components were traced using a combination of ammonium (NH4+) and fluorescence analysis, while the particulate fraction was traced using organic biomarkers, 5β-stanols. Results showed that rainfall events which produced flashy hydrological responses, resulting in large quantities of surface runoff, were likely to move sediment and also flush dissolved components of slurry-derived material from the slope, increasing the contamination risk. Rainfall events which produced slower hydrological responses were dominated by vertical percolated flows removing less sediment-associated material, but produced leachate which could contaminate deeper soil layers, and potentially groundwater, over a more prolonged period. Overall, this research provides new insights into the partitioning of slurry-derived material when applied to an unvegetated slope and the transport mechanisms by which contamination risks are created.

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