Large scale modelling of groundwater contamination from nitrate leaching

J.C. Refsgaard, M. Thorsen, J.B. Jensen, S. Kleeschulte, S. Hansen

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143 Citations (Scopus)


Groundwater pollution from non-point sources, such as nitrate from agricultural activities, is a problem of increasing concern. Comprehensive modelling tools of the physically based type are well proven for small-scale applications with good data availability, such as plots or small experimental catchments. The two key problems related to large-scale simulation are data availability at the large scale and model upscaling/aggregation to represent conditions at larger scale. This paper presents a methodology and two case studies for large-scale simulation of aquifer contamination due to nitrate leaching. Readily available data from standard European level databases such as GISCO, EUROSTAT and the European Environment Agency (EEA) have been used as the basis of modelling. These data were supplemented by selected readily available data from national sources. The model parameters were all assessed from these data by use of various transfer functions, and no model calibration was carded out. The adopted upscaling procedure combines upscaling from point to field scale using effective parameters with a statistically based aggregation procedure from field to catchment scale, preserving the areal distribution of soil types, vegetation types and agricultural practices on a catchment basis. The methodology was tested on two Danish catchments with good simulation results on water balance and nitrate concentration distributions in groundwater. The upscaling/aggregation procedure appears to be applicable in many areas with regard to root zone processes such as runoff generation and nitrate leaching, while it has important limitations with regard to hydrograph shape due to its lack of accounting for scale effects in relation to stream aquifer interaction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-140
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 30 Aug 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Databases
  • Distributed model
  • Nitrate leaching
  • Non-point pollution
  • Upscaling
  • Water balance

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 2: Water Resources


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