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Uncertainties in assessing annual nitrate loads and concentration indicators. Part 1: Impact of sampling frequency and load estimation alogorithms

Abstract : The objectives of this study are to evaluate the uncertainty in annual nitrate loads and concentrations (such as annual average and median concentrations) as induced by infrequent sampling and by the algorithms used to compute fluxes. A total of 50 watershed-years of hourly to daily flow and concentration data gathered from nine watersheds (5 to 252 km2) in Brittany, France, were analyzed. Original (high frequency) nitrate concentration and flow data were numerically sampled to simulate common sampling frequencies. Annual fluxes and concentration indicators calculated from the simulated samples were compared to the reference values calculated from the high-frequency data. The uncertainties contributed by several algorithms used to calculate annual fluxes were also quantified. In all cases, uncertainty increased as sampling intervals increased. Results showed that all the tested algorithms that do not use continuous flow data to compute nitrate fluxes introduced considerable uncertainty. The flowƒ]weighted average concentration ratio method was found to perform best across the 50 annual datasets. Analysis of the bias values suggests that the 90th and 95th percentiles and the maximum concentration values tend to be systematically underestimated in the long term, but the load estimates (using the chosen algorithm) and the average and median concentrations were relatively unbiased. Great variability in the precision of the load estimation algorithms was observed, both between watersheds of different sizes and between years for a particular watershed. This has prevented definitive uncertainty predictions for nitrate loads and concentrations in this preliminary work, but suggests that hydrologic factors, such as the watershed hydrological reactivity, could be a key factor in predicting uncertainty levels.
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Contributor : Isabelle Dubigeon <>
Submitted on : Tuesday, October 11, 2011 - 2:37:40 PM
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François Birgand, Claire Faucheux, Gérard Gruau, Bénédicte Augeard, Florentina Moatar, et al.. Uncertainties in assessing annual nitrate loads and concentration indicators. Part 1: Impact of sampling frequency and load estimation alogorithms. Transactions of the ASABE, American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, 2010, 53 (2), pp.437-446. ⟨10.13031/2013.29584⟩. ⟨insu-00578143⟩

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