Quantitative Assessment of Specific Vulnerability to Nitrate Pollution of Shallow Alluvial Aquifers by Process-Based and Empirical Approaches
Shallow aquifers of coastal and internal alluvial plains of developed countries are commonly characterized by the challenging management of groundwater resources due to the intense agricultural and industrial activities that determine a high risk of groundwater contamination. Among the principal origins of pollution in these areas are agricultural practices based on the amendment of soils by nitrate fertilizers, which have been recognized as one of the most severe environmental emergencies for
... al emergencies for which specific policies and regulations have been issued (e.g., EU Directive 2006/118/EC). In such a framework, the results of research aimed at assessing the specific vulnerability of shallow alluvial aquifers to nitrate fertilizer pollutants by coupled process-based and empirical approaches are here proposed. The research focused on assessing the specific vulnerability to nitrate pollution of a shallow alluvial aquifer of the Campania region (southern Italy), which was selected due to its representativeness to other recurrent hydrogeological settings occurring in alluvial plains of the region and worldwide. In this area, 1D hydro-stratigraphic models of the unsaturated zone were reconstructed and applied for simulating the transport of nitrate pollutants at the water table and estimating the associated travel times. Numerical modeling was carried out by the finite differences VS2TDI code and considered a 10-year time series of rainfall and evapotranspiration as well as typical local farming practices of nitrate fertilizer input. Results of the travel time calculated for the 1D hydro-stratigraphic models considered and at different depths were recognized as a proxy to assess the specific vulnerability to nitrate fertilizer pollution. Among the principal outcomes is an empirical multiple correlation between the travel time of the nitrate fertilizer pollutant, water table depth, and equivalent saturated hydraulic conductivity of the unsaturated zone or hydraulic resistance, which was used to assess the travel time at the distributed scale over the whole area studied as well as the related specific vulnerability. Given such results, the coupled process-based and empirical approach is proposed as generally applicable for assessing and mapping groundwater vulnerability in shallow aquifers, for which detailed stratigraphic and piezometric data are available.