The major ion chemistry of water from an 11.42-km reach of the Pajaro River, a losing stream in central coastal California, shows a consistent pattern of higher concentrations during the 2nd (dry) half of the water year. Most solutes are conserved during flow along the reach, but [NO 3-] decreases by ~30% and is accompanied by net loss of channel discharge and extensive surface-subsurface exchange. The corresponding net NO3- uptake length is 37 +/- 13 km (42 +/- 12 km when normalized to the conservative solute Cl-), and the areal NO3- uptake rate is 0.5 umol m -2 s-1. The observed reduction in [NO3-] along the reach results from one or more internal sinks, not dilution by ground water, hill-slope water, or other water inputs. Observed reductions in [NO3-] and channel discharge along the experimental reach result in a net loss of 200-400 kg/d of NO3-N, ~50% of the input load. High-resolution (temporal and spatial) sampling indicates that most of the NO3- loss occurs along the lower part of the reach, where there is the greatest seepage loss and surface-subsurface exchange of water. Stable isotopes of NO 3-, total dissolved P concentrations, and streambed chemical profiles suggest that denitrification is the most significant NO 3- sink along the reach. Denitrification efficiency, as expressed through downstream enrichment in 15N-NO3-, varies considerably during the water year. When discharge is greater (typically earlier in the water year), denitrification is least efficient and downstream enrichment in 15N-NO3- is greatest. When discharge is lower, denitrification in the streambed appears to occur with greater efficiency, resulting in lower downstream enrichment in 15N-NO3-.
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