Nitrate mass balance in agricultural areas of intensive fertilizer application: The North Maresme aquifer system case study (spain)

Antonio Hernández-Espriú, Eloisa Domínguez-Mariani, José Antonio Reyna-Gutiérrez, Pedro Martínez-Santos, Emilio Sánchez-León, Luis E. Marín

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Nitrate pollution is a worldwide problem in groundwater, as it may limit water supply and increase health risk when high concentrations are present. The North Maresme coastal alluvial groundwater-dependent agrosystem, one of the most heavily nitrate polluted aquifers in Spain, is located 70 km northeast from Barcelona. Field monitoring campaigns performed in this aquifer yielded nitrate concentrations up to ten times the permitted limit for drinking water suggested by the World Health Organization (50 mg/l), with a maximum concentration of 567 mg/l and a mean of 137.5 mg/l. Nitrate contamination was quantified by means of a mass balance, taking into account the main hydrogeological and anthropogenic processes that control the behavior of this ion in the aquifer, such as recharge, groundwater extraction, irrigation and fertilizer application to crops. Nitrate balance is an integrative approach for assessing nitrate loading based on linking different sources of nitrates to a groundwater balance. This methodology considers nitrate as a conservative ion because the geological-geochemical medium behaves under oxidant conditions. Results show that the studied aquifer system receives, yields and retains approximately 935, 844 and 91 tons of NO3 -/year, respectively. This methodology can be applied to other nitrate-contaminated aquifers with similar conditions to improve management of fertilizers practices in areas of intensive agriculture.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSociedad Geologica Mexicana. Boletin
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)39-50
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Fertilizers
  • Maresme
  • Nitrate contamination
  • Nitrate mass balance
  • Nroundwater balance
  • Physiological effect


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