Nitrogen losses from intensive agriculture are a source of nitrate pollution in water resources around the world. Given the serious human and environmental health consequences of nitrate pollution, sustainable management of nitrogen-based fertilizers is a critically important challenge. The vulnerability of agricultural land to nitrate leaching is typically described using static information on land use, soils, and the topography of the landscape, combined with average values for precipitation and groundwater levels—without considering how these variables change over time. A new study that captures hydroclimate and transport dynamics found nitrate leaching occurs on about 3/4 of Europe’s agricultural land, an area twice as large as previously assumed.
Kumar, R., Heße, F., Rao, P.S.C. et al. Strong hydroclimatic controls on vulnerability to subsurface nitrate contamination across Europe. Nature Communication. 11, 6302 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-19955-8