Application of stable isotopes (δ³⁴S-SO₄, δ¹⁸O-SO₄, δ¹⁵N-NO ₃, δ¹⁸O-NO ₃) to determine natural background and contamination sources in the Guadalhorce River Basin (southern Spain).Sci Total Environ. 2015 Feb 15; 506-507:46-57.ST
The integrated use of isotopes (δ(34)S-SO4, δ(18)O-SO4, δ(15)N-NO3, δ(18)O-NO3), taking into account existing hydrogeological knowledge of the study area (mainly hydrochemical), was applied in the Guadalhorce River Basin (southern Spain) to characterise SO4(2-) and NO3(-) sources, and to quantify natural background levels (NBLs) in groundwater bodies. According to Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC and, more recently, Groundwater Directive 2006/118/EC, it is important to determine NBLs, as their correct assessment is the first, essential step to characterising groundwater bodies, establishing threshold values, assessing chemical status and identifying trends in pollutant concentrations. In many cases, NBLs are high for some parameters and types of groundwater, making it difficult to distinguish clearly between factors of natural or human origin. The main advantages of using stable isotopes in a complex area like the Guadalhorce River Basin that exhibits widely varying hydrogeological and hydrochemical conditions and longstanding anthropogenic influences (mainly agriculture, but also many others) is accurate determination of pollution sources and precise quantification of NBLs. Since chemical analyses only provides the concentration of pollutants in water and not the source, three isotopic sampling campaigns for sulphates (δ(34)S-SO4, δ(18)O-SO4) were carried out, in 2006, 2007 and 2012, and another one was conducted for nitrates (δ(15)N-NO3, δ(18)O-NO3), in 2009, in groundwater bodies in order to trace the origins of each pollutant. The present study identified different pollution sources of dissolved NO3(-) in groundwater using an isotopic composition and quantified the percentage of natural (lithology, chemical and biological processes) and anthropogenic (fertilisers, manure and sewage) SO4(2-) and matched a concentration associated with the percentage in order to determine the NBLs in the basin.