Trends in nutrient concentrations in Latvian rivers and the response to the dramatic change in agriculture

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Tekijä Stålnacke, P.; Grimvall, A.; Libiseller, C.; Laznik, M.; Kokorite, I.
Sarja Journal of Hydrology
DOI/ISBN-numero 10.1016/S0022-1694(03)00266-X
Päivämäärä 2003
Avainsanat Agricultural change, Agricultural rivers, Latvia, nitrogen, phosphorus, Trend analysis
Sivut s. 184-205
Volyymi Vol 283, Issues 1-4
Kieli englanti
Saatavuus Trends in nutrient concentrations in Latvian rivers and the response to the dramatic change in agriculture

In recent years, the use of fertilisers in the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) has decreased at an unprecedented rate. The import of mineral fertilisers and feed stuff became almost non-existent, and extensive slaughtering of livestock reduced the amount of manure. In Latvia, the purchase of mineral fertilisers decreased by a factor of 15 between 1987 and 1996 and the number of livestock decreased with a factor of almost 4 during the same time period. Such abrupt and comprehensive changes in land use have never before occurred in the history of modern European agriculture.

Here, the impact that this dramatic reduction has had on concentrations of nutrients in Latvian rivers is examined. To discern temporal changes, statistical analyses were undertaken on time series of nutrient concentrations and relationships between concentrations and runoff at 12 sampling sites in ten Latvian rivers covering drainage areas from 334 to 64,000 km2.

Considering the study period 1987–1998, only four of the 12 sites showed statistically significant downward trends (one-sided test at the 5% level) in the dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN=NO3-N+NO2-N+NH4-N) data. There are probably two main explanations for the weak DIN trends. Firstly, long water-transit times in the soilwater and groundwater may have caused substantial time lag between changes in input and output of nitrate in the studied catchments. Secondly, the loss of DIN might have been dominated by mineralisation of large pools of organic nitrogen that have accumulated over several years. These inferences are supported by (i) a hydrograph recession analysis and (ii) indications of DIN transformation processes, presumably denitrification in smaller streams and channels, based on measurements in small agricultural catchments (1–4 km2) in Estonia and Latvia.

Formal testing of trends in phosphorus data revealed that marked drops occurred in riverine concentrations at six sites in 1987–1998. A joint analysis of concentration time series for all sampling sites for 1987–1998 showed weak statistical significance for downward trends in NH4-N, NO3-N, and DIN (p≅0.04) and substantial significance for PO4-P (p<0.01).

Thus, the extensive decrease in agricultural intensity that began in the early 1990s has led to only a slow and limited (especially regarding nitrogen) response in Latvian rivers. The difference noted between nitrogen and phosphorus also suggests that factors other than reduced fertiliser application influenced the inertia of the water quality response. Our findings, along with those obtained in similar studies, show that large cuts in nutrient inputs do not necessarily cause an immediate response, particularly in medium-sized and large catchment areas.