Shallow groundwater fluctuation: An ignored soil N loss pathway from cropland

Anqiang Chen, Dan Zhang, Hongyuan Wang*, Rongyang Cui, Benyamin Khoshnevisan, Shufang Guo, Panlei Wang, Hongbin Liu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Nitrogen (N) pollution originating from agricultural land is among the major threats to shallow groundwater (SG). Soil N losses due to the SG table fluctuation are neglected, although a large number of studies have been conducted to evaluate N losses through leaching and runoff. Herein, the characteristics of N losses driven by SG table fluctuation were investigated using the microcosm experiment and surveyed data from the croplands around Erhai Lake. According to the results achieved, the total N (TN) loss mainly occurred during the initial 12 days when the soil was flooded, then presented N immobilized by soil and finally, basically balanced between influent and effluent after 50 days. The results demonstrated that 1.7% of the original soil TN storage (0–100 cm) was lost. The alternation of drying and flooding could greatly increase TN loss up to 1086 kg hm−2, which was 2.72 times as much as that of continuous flooding flow. The amount of soil N losses to groundwater was closely related to the soil profile biochemical characteristics (water content, soil microbial immobilization, mineralization, nitrification, and denitrification processes). Soil N loss from crop fields driven by SG table fluctuation is 26 and 6 times of the runoff and leaching losses, respectively, while the soil N loss from the vegetable fields is 33 and 4 times of the runoff and leaching losses. The total amount of N losses from the croplands around the Erhai Lake caused by flooding of shallow groundwater (SG) in 2016 was estimated at 3506 Mg. The estimations showed that N losses would decrease by 16% if vegetables are replaced with staple food crops. These results imply that the adjustment of the planting structure was the key measure to reduce soil N storage and mitigate groundwater contamination.

Original languageEnglish
Article number154554
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 1. Jul 2022


  • Cropland
  • Fluctuations of shallow groundwater table
  • Soil nitrogen loss
  • Soil nitrogen storage
  • Soil profile


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