Morpho-physical pedotransfer functions for groundwater pollution by nitrate leaching in Central Chile

Ignacio Fuentes1*, Manuel Casanova1, Oscar Seguel1, Francisco Najera1, and Osvaldo Salazar1
Nitrate leaching (NL) is a major concern in agriculture due to its impact on human health and ecosystems. Solute movement through soil is governed by various hydraulic and physical properties that determine water flow. To study such relationships, a pedotransfer function of groundwater pollution was developed in two alluvial irrigated soils under long-term pig slurry applications. Two basins of central Chile, San Pedro (Typic Xerochrepts) and Pichidegua (Mollic Xerofluvents) were selected, where maize (Zea mays L.) was grown in spring-summer, while during autumn-winter period a ryegrass-barley-oat mixed crop was established in San Pedro and a fallow management applied in Pichidegua. Soils in cultivated and control sites were characterized in physical and hydraulic terms. Nitrogen and water budgets were determined measuring periodically (biweekly) N concentration (N-NO3-and N-NH4+) and monitoring water contents in soil profiles, respectively. Dye tracer tests were performed with brilliant blue (BB) dye and the staining patterns analyzed. To contrast the effect of slurry additions over soil physical properties and over NL, t-Student tests were performed. Some accurate pollution groundwater NL pedotransfer functions were obtained calculated through least square fit models and artificial neural networks. Textural porosity, mean diameter variation, slow drainage porosity, air conductivity at 33 kPa water tension and N-NO3- concentrations were directly related to NL. In terms of preferential flow analysis, stained path width > 200 mm was inversely associated to NL. Finally, dye tracer tests provided a better understanding of the characteristics and pattern of water/solute movement through soil to groundwater.
Keywords: Nitrate leaching index, preferential flow, soil hydraulic properties.
1Universidad de Chile, Facultad de Ciencias Agronómicas, Casilla 1004, Santiago, Chile. *Corresponding author (ignacio.fuentes.sanroman@gmail.com).