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Large source of nitrate, a potential water contaminant, found in near-surface desert soils
Date:2/29/2008

r in deserts, affecting net productivity in desert ecosystems, said Robert Graham, a professor of soil mineralogy in the Department of Environmental Sciences and the lead author of the research paper. The nitrate stored in soils under desert pavement is a previously unrecognized vast pool of nitrogen that is particularly susceptible to climate change and human disturbance. Moister climates, increased irrigation, wastewater disposal, or flooding may transport high nitrate levels to groundwater or surface waters, which is detrimental to water quality.

In their study, Graham and his colleagues sampled three widely separated locations with well-developed desert pavement in the Mojave Desert. The locations were selected to represent a variety of landforms commonly found in the desert. The researchers found that the nitrate they observed in association with desert pavement was consistent across the landforms.

Deserts account for about one-third of Earths land area, Graham said. If our findings in the Mojave can be extrapolated to deserts worldwide, the amount of nitrate and nitrogen stored in near-surface soils of warm deserts would need to be re-estimated.

Graham and his team of researchers found that nitrate concentration in soils under desert pavement in the Mojave reached a maximum (up to 12,750 kilograms per hectare) within 0.1 to 0.6 meter depth. In contrast, at each location they studied, the soils without desert pavement had relatively low nitrate concentrations (80 to 1500 kilograms per hectare) throughout the upper meter. In these nonpavement locations, water was able to infiltrate the soil and transport the nitrate to deeper within the soil, Graham explained.

The researchers note in the paper that desert land use road construction, off-road vehicle use, and military training often disrupts fragile land surfaces, increasing su
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Contact: Iqbal Pittalwala
iqbal@ucr.edu
951-827-6050
University of California - Riverside
Source:Eurekalert  

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Large source of nitrate, a potential water contaminant, found in near-surface desert soils
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