High levels of nitrate (NO3) in water destined for human consumption or recreational activity raise serious health concerns for humans and ecosystems. Resulting algae blooms can have disastrous ecological and economic consequences. The ability to identify the sources of high levels of nitrate in surface, ground or drinking water is therefore a crucial first step in avoiding or remediating contamination issues.
One valuable tracing method available to water managers concerned about the risks associated with high levels of nitrate is isotopic analysis. Nitrate in water is chemically reduced to nitrous oxide (N2O) and analyzed for the stable isotopes of oxygen (δ18O) and nitrogen (δ15N). This establishes an isotopic fingerprint that can be used by water managers to identify the source of the nitrate.
Further Reading on Nitrate Source Tracking:
Nitrate Contamination and the Sources of Nitrate Pollution
The interpretation of δ18O and δ15N values in hydrological and environmental impact studies lies with the submitter.