Dominance of biologically produced nitrate in upland waters of Great Britain indicated by stable isotopes

Chris J. Curtis, Timothy H.E. Heaton, Gavin L. Simpson, Chris D. Evans, James Shilland, Simon Turner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Atmospheric deposition of nitrogen (N) compounds is the major source of anthropogenic N to most upland ecosystems, where leaching of nitrate (NO3-) into surface waters contributes to eutrophication and acidification as well as indicating an excess of N in the terrestrial catchment ecosystems. Natural abundance stable isotopes ratios, 15N/14N and 18O/16O (the "dual isotope" technique) have previously been used in biogeochemical studies of alpine and forested ecosystems to demonstrate that most of the NO3- in upland surface waters has been microbially produced. Here we present an application of the technique to four moorland catchments in the British uplands including a comparison of lakes and their stream inflows at two sites. The NO3- concentrations of bulk deposition and surface waters at three sites are very similar. While noting the constraints imposed by uncertainty in the precise δ18O value for microbial NO3-, however, we estimate that 79-98% of the annual mean NO3- has been microbially produced. Direct leaching of atmospheric NO3- is a minor component of catchment NO3- export, although greater than in many similar studies in forested watersheds. A greater proportion of atmospheric NO3- is seen in the two lake sites relative to their inflow streams, demonstrating the importance of direct NO3- deposition to lake surfaces in catchments where terrestrial ecosystems intercept a large proportion of deposited N. The dominance of microbial sources of NO3- in upland waters suggests that reduced and oxidised N deposition may have similar implications in terms of contributing to NO3- leaching.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)535-554
Number of pages20
Issue number1-3
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Lakes
  • N deposition
  • Nitrate leaching
  • Nitrification
  • Uplands

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


Dive into the research topics of 'Dominance of biologically produced nitrate in upland waters of Great Britain indicated by stable isotopes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this