Technical note: An open-source, low-cost system for continuous nitrate monitoring in soil and open water
Abstract. Nitrate (NO3-), mainly leaching with soil pore water, is the primary nonpoint source pollutant of groundwater worldwide. Obtaining real-time information on nitrate levels in soils would allow gaining a better understanding of the sources and transport dynamics of nitrate through the unsaturated zone. However, conventional nitrate detection techniques (e.g. soil sample analysis) necessitate costly, laboratory-grade equipment for analysis, along with human resources, resulting in a laborious and time-intensive procedure. These drawbacks raise the need to develop cost-effective and automated systems for in situ nitrate measurements in field conditions. This study presents the development of a low-cost, portable, automated system for field measurements of nitrate in soil pore water and open water bodies. The system is based on the spectrophotometric determination of nitrate using a single reagent. The system design and processing software are openly accessible, including a building guide, to allow duplicating or changing the system according to user-specific needs. Three field tests, conducted over five weeks, validated the system’s measurement capabilities within the range of 0–10 ppm NO3--N with a low RMSE of <0.2 ppm NO3--N when comparing the results to standard laboratory nitrate analysis. Data derived from such a system allow tracking of the temporal variation in soil nitrate, thus opening new possibilities for diverse soil and nutrient management studies.
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