Importance of snowmelt on soil nitrate leaching to groundwater – A model study

Sahila Beegum, Arindam Malakar, Chittaranjan Ray, Daniel D. Snow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The movement of nitrate to surface water bodies during snow accumulation and melting has been extensively studied, but there are only limited studies on the influence of snow processes on nitrate leaching to groundwater. The present study investigated the impact of snow processes on nitrate leaching to groundwater based on a simulation modeling approach using HYDRUS-1D. HYDRUS-1D model has a temperature threshold-based snow model in addition to water, solute, and heat simulation components. The snow component in HYDRUS-1D was previously not applied to snow simulation studies since the method does not consider a detailed physical and process-based representation of snow accumulation and melting. In the present study, HYDRUS-1D was used to simulate snow accumulation and melting over 30 years for a location in Waverly, Lancaster County, Nebraska, USA. From the simulations, it was observed that the calibrated temperature threshold based snow module in HYDRUS-1D is effective in simulating snow accumulation and melting, as shown by the index of agreement and root mean squared error of 0.74 and 2.70 cm for calibration (15 years) and 0.88 and 2.70 cm for validation (15 years), respectively. The impact of snow melt on nitrate leaching was studied based on a study area with corn cultivation (Waverly, Nebraska, USA). A long-term (60 years) analysis was carried out for irrigated and non-irrigated agriculture with and without precipitation as snow. A higher nitrate leaching to groundwater was observed in the order of irrigated–with snow (54,038 kg/ha), irrigated-without snow (53,516 kg/ha), non-irrigated-with snow (7,431 kg/ha), and non-irrigated-without snow (7,090 kg/ha). This displays a 0.98% and 4.81% increase in nitrate leaching due to snow in irrigated and non-irrigated conditions, respectively. When extrapolated over the corn cultivated regions in Nebraska, this resulted in a difference of 1.2E+09 kg and 6.1E+08 kg of nitrate when considering snow in irrigated and non-irrigated areas over 60 years. This is the first study that has analyzed the long-term impact of snow on nitrate transport to groundwater based on a simulation modeling approach. The results show that snow accumulation and melting plays a vital role in the nitrate leaching into the groundwater and indicates the importance of considering snow components in similar studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104163
JournalJournal of Contaminant Hydrology
StatePublished - Apr 2023


  • Contamination
  • Groundwater
  • Nitrate
  • Snowmelt
  • Temperature threshold-based models

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology


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