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The Impact of Clay Mineralogy on Nitrate Mobility under Unsaturated Flow Conditions
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Transient unsaturated horizontal column experiments were conducted to assess clay mineralogy impacts on electrostatic processes affecting nitrate (NO3-) mobility. Replicated tests were conducted on quartz sand, mixtures of the sand and kaolinite, illite, and montmorillonite, and two natural soils with organic matter removed. In each test, a 200 mg L-1 nitrate-nitrogen (NO3--N) solution was injected at the inlet of dry soil columns. Comparison of corresponding NO3--N concentration and volumetric water content profiles from the column tests provided valuable information regarding soil mineral composition impacts on NO3- transport. With the exception of a small peak at the wetting front, NO3--N concentrations for the quartz sand were consistently near the 200 mg L-1 injection level within the wetted portion of the columns, indicating that NO3- electrostatic interactions were negligible. Anion adsorption processes in the 25% kaolinite-75 % sand mixture produced a result in which the NO3--N concentrations adjacent to the inlet of the columns were approximately 20% greater than that of the injected solution. Anion exclusion was the dominant electrostatic interaction affecting NO3- mobility in the 25% illite-75% sand, 25% montmorillonite-75% sand, and 15% kaolinite-7.5% illite-7.5% montmorillonite-70% sand mixtures and in the two natural soils. Evidence of anion exclusion in these artificial and natural soils includes NO3--N concentrations near the column inlet that were 11 to 19% less than the injected solution concentration, and NO3--N concentrations near the wetting front that were greater than the injected solution concentration by factors of 1.7 to 5.4. These results indicate that anion adsorption is an important process affecting NO3- mobility in low pH soils, with limited amounts of organic matter, and having a clay-size fraction dominated by kaolinite, while anion exclusion is a key electrostatic interaction influencing NO3- mobility in near-neutral to high pH soils, especially if significant amounts of montmorillonite are present.
soil transport processes
sandy loam soils
cation exchange capacity
Vadose zone journal VZJ 2007 May, v. 6, no. 2
Journal Articles, USDA Authors, Peer-Reviewed
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