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Nitrate sources and factors controlling its distribution in agricultural lands and groundwater in two small catchments in southern Quebec, Canada

Agriculture is one of the main economical activities in the Montérégie Est region (southern Quebec, Canada) and the main rivers are heavily impacted by nitrate. However, groundwater in this area does not appear to be contaminated, except in a few places. A study on the nitrogen
cycle was carried out as part of a regional aquifer assessment and it focused on two small catchments having intensive agricultural activities. This study investigated nitrogen exchanges between the vadose zone and the bedrock aquifer in order to better understand processes contributing to low
nitrate concentrations in groundwater of this region. The presence of both agricultural drains and low-permeability soils have been found to be the main causes for these low concentrations. Poor drainage was identified to be mainly responsible for the occurrence of various biochemical reactions in
the unsaturated zone that modify nitrogen and oxygen isotopic ratios and, therefore, preclude the identification of the nitrate sources.

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