Quantifying Nitrate Leaching from Autumn Olive into Groundwater

Faculty Sponsor

Zuhdi Aljobeh




Civil Engineering

Presentation Type

Poster Presentation

Symposium Date

Spring 5-2-2015


Elaeagnus umbellata (Autumn Olive) was introduced to the United States in 1830 as a means of fast growing wildlife habitats and for erosion control. The Asian native plant is now an invasive species that disturbs the plants that are native to the United States. The autumn olive has nitrogen-fixing roots which allow the plant to grow in a variety of soil types, making it all the more invasive. When there is a heavy rainfall, highly mobile nitrate residual from the plant roots may be washed through the soil and enter the groundwater. Nitrate is the form of nitrogen that primarily affects groundwater and if untreated is toxic to children under a year old and small animals. A farm containing a large population of autumn olive plants was used as a research site for nitrate testing. In the fall of 2014, 16 lysimeters were installed to collect groundwater; eight placed near an autumn olive plant as samples, and eight placed away from the plants in a neutral area as controls. Groundwater was collected from each of the 16 lysimeters weekly until the first snowfall. The water was tested for nitrite, nitrate, and total nitrogen within 24 hours of being retrieved. Potassium and hardness testing was also conducted. Current results show that nitrate levels are higher near the autumn olive plants compared to the controlled locations. The results of the research have not yet been completed due the continuing collection from the lysimeters into the spring.

Biographical Information about Author(s)

Kathryn Jackson, Steven Warner, and Dana Hinaman are civil engineering students at Valparaiso University. Kathryn and Steven will be graduating in May 2015, Dana in May 2016. Kathryn plans on entering the engineering field for a few years until she returns to school to pursue a graduate degree in civil engineering and educate engineering students at a university level. Steven plans on entering the engineering field as a design engineer, later pursuing a masters degree in civil engineering. Dana also plans on working as an engineer in the field until she returns to school to pursue an MBA degree.

Dr. Zuhdi Aljobeh, P.E. is an associate professor of civil engineering at Valparaiso University. His teaching, research, and practice are in the areas of environmental engineering and stormwater management.

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