Are maps of nitrate reduction in groundwater altered by climate and land use changes?

Ida Karlsson Seidenfaden, Torben Obel Sonnenborg, Jens Christian Refsgaard, Christen Duus Børgesen, Jørgen Eivind Olesen, Dennis Trolle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Nitrate reduction maps have been used routinely in northern Europe for calculating the efficiency of remediation measures and the impact of climate change on nitrate leaching. These maps are, therefore, valuable tools for policy analysis and mitigation targeting. Nitrate reduction maps are normally based on output from complex hydrological models and, once generated, are largely assumed constant in time. However, the distribution, magnitude, and efficiency of nitrate reduction cannot necessarily be considered stationary during changing climate and land use as flow paths, nitrate release timing, and their interaction may shift. This study investigates the potential improvement of using transient nitrate reduction maps, compared to a constant nitrate reduction map that is assumed during land use and climate change, both for nitrate loads and the spatial variation in reduction. For this purpose, a crop and soil model (DAISY) was set up to provide nitrate input to a distributed hydrological model (MIKE SHE) for an agricultural catchment in Funen, Denmark. Nitrate reduction maps based on an observed dataset of land use and climate were generated and compared to nitrate reduction maps generated for all combinations of four potential land use change scenarios and four future climate model projections. Nitrate reduction maps were found to be more sensitive to changes in climate, leading to a reduction map change of up to 10ĝ€¯%, while land use changes effects were minor. The study, however, also showed that the reduction maps are products of a range of complex interactions between water fluxes, nitrate use, and timing. What is also important to note is that the choices made for future scenarios, model setup, and assumptions may affect the resulting span in the reduction capability. To account for this uncertainty, multiple approaches, assumptions, and models could be applied for the same area. However, as these models are very time consuming, this is not always a feasible approach in practice. An uncertainty of the order of 10ĝ€¯% on the reduction map may have major impacts on practical water management. It is, therefore, important to acknowledge if such errors are deemed acceptable in relation to the purpose and context of specific water management situations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)955-973
Number of pages19
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2022


  • DK-model

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 2: Water Resources


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