Simulation of Daily Flow Pathways, Tile-Drain Nitrate Concentrations, and Soil-Nitrogen Dynamics Using SWAT

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Ikenberry, Charles D.
Crumpton, William
Arnold, Jeffrey
Gassman, Philip
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Soupir, Michelle
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Center for Agricultural and Rural Development

The Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) conducts innovative public policy and economic research on agricultural, environmental, and food issues. CARD uniquely combines academic excellence with engagement and anticipatory thinking to inform and benefit society.

CARD researchers develop and apply economic theory, quantitative methods, and interdisciplinary approaches to create relevant knowledge. Communication efforts target state and federal policymakers; the research community; agricultural, food, and environmental groups; individual decision-makers; and international audiences.

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Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology

The Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology seeks to teach the studies of ecology (organisms and their environment), evolutionary theory (the origin and interrelationships of organisms), and organismal biology (the structure, function, and biodiversity of organisms). In doing this, it offers several majors which are codirected with other departments, including biology, genetics, and environmental sciences.

The Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology was founded in 2003 as a merger of the Department of Botany, the Department of Microbiology, and the Department of Zoology and Genetics.

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Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering

Since 1905, the Department of Agricultural Engineering, now the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering (ABE), has been a leader in providing engineering solutions to agricultural problems in the United States and the world. The department’s original mission was to mechanize agriculture. That mission has evolved to encompass a global view of the entire food production system–the wise management of natural resources in the production, processing, storage, handling, and use of food fiber and other biological products.

In 1905 Agricultural Engineering was recognized as a subdivision of the Department of Agronomy, and in 1907 it was recognized as a unique department. It was renamed the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering in 1990. The department merged with the Department of Industrial Education and Technology in 2004.

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  • Department of Agricultural Engineering (1907–1990)

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Tile drainage significantly alters flow and nutrient pathways and reliable simulation at this scale is needed for effective planning of nutrient reduction strategies. The Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) has been widely utilized for prediction of flow and nutrient loads, but few applications have evaluated the model's ability to simulate pathway-specific flow components or nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N) concentrations in tile-drained watersheds at the daily time step. The objectives of this study were to develop and calibrate SWAT models for small, tile-drained watersheds, evaluate model performance for simulation of flow components and NO3-N concentration at daily intervals, and evaluate simulated soil-nitrogen dynamics. Model evaluation revealed that it is possible to meet accepted performance criteria for simulation of monthly total flow, subsurface flow (SSF), and NO3-N loads while obtaining daily surface runoff (SURQ), SSF, and NO3-N concentrations that are not satisfactory. This limits model utility for simulating best management practices (BMPs) and compliance with water quality standards. Although SWAT simulates the soil N-cycle and most predicted fluxes were within ranges reported in agronomic studies, improvements to algorithms for soil-N processes are needed. Variability in N fluxes is extreme and better parameterization and constraint, through use of more detailed agronomic data, would also improve NO3-N simulation in SWAT. Editor's note: This paper is part of the featured series on SWAT Applications for Emerging Hydrologic and Water Quality Challenges. See the February 2017 issue for the introduction and background to the series.


This article is published as Ikenberry, Charles D., Michelle L. Soupir, Matthew J. Helmers, William G. Crumpton, Jeffrey G. Arnold, and Philip W. Gassman. "Simulation of Daily Flow Pathways, Tile‐Drain Nitrate Concentrations, and Soil‐Nitrogen Dynamics Using SWAT." JAWRA Journal of the American Water Resources Association 53, no. 6 (2017): 1251-1266. doi: 10.1111/1752-1688.12569. Posted with permission.