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Modelling Nitrate Pollution Vulnerability in the Brussel’s Capital Region (Belgium) Using Data-Driven Modelling Approaches

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Document pages: 15 pages

Abstract: Groundwater vulnerability for nitrate pollution of groundwater in the Brussel’s Capital Region was modelled using data-driven modelling approaches. The land use in the study area is heterogeneous. The South South-Eastern part of the region is forested, while the remaining part is urbanised. Groundwater nitrate concentration data were determined at 48 measurement stations distributed over the study area. In addition, oxygen and nitrogen isotope concentration of the nitrates were determined. The data show that the groundwater body is degraded, particularly in the urbanised part of the study area. The contamination with nitrates at degraded stations is slightly decreasing, while the opposite is true for the nitrate contamination at the less degraded stations. We modelled the contamination and trends of nitrate contamination using linear and non-linear statistical modelling techniques. In total, we defined 23 spatially distributed proxy variables that could explain nitrate contamination of the groundwater body. These proxy variables were defined at the grid size of 10 m, and averaged over the influence zone of each measurement station. The influence zones were identified using a simplified particle tracking algorithm from the groundwater piezometric map. The calculated influence zones were consistent with results obtained from a detailed numerical groundwater flow and transport model. Stepwise regression allowed explaining 56 of the observed variability of nitrate contaminations, while non-linear artificial neural network modelling allows explaining nearly 60 of the variability. The dominant explaining variables are the percentage of impermeable surface, the percentage of the sewage system that is in a degradation state, the number of urban infrastructure construction permits with a high pollution risk, the size of the influence zone, and the depth of the groundwater sampling. These results illustrate the important role of urban infrastructure on groundwater degradation and are consistent with the isotopic signature of nitrates determined on the sampling stations. The overlay of the nitrate contamination data with the DRASTIC vulnerability model shows that this latter conceptual model captures partially the spatial signature of the observed contamination.

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