Modelling the fate of nitrite in an urbanized river using experimentally obtained nitrifier growth parameters

Mélanie Raimonet*, Lauriane Vilmin, Nicolas Flipo, Vincent Rocher, Anniet M. Laverman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Maintaining low nitrite concentrations in aquatic systems is a major issue for stakeholders due to nitrite's high toxicity for living species. This study reports on a cost-effective and realistic approach to study nitrite dynamics and improve its modelling in human-impacted river systems. The implementation of different nitrifying biomasses to model riverine communities and waste water treatment plant (WWTP)-related communities enabled us to assess the impact of a major WWTP effluent on in-river nitrification dynamics. The optimal kinetic parameters and biomasses of the different nitrifying communities were determined and validated by coupling laboratory experiments and modelling. This approach was carried out in the Seine River, as an example of a large human-impacted river with high nitrite concentrations. The simulation of nitrite fate was performed at a high spatial and temporal resolution (δt=10min, dx=500m) including water and sediment layers along a 220km stretch of the Seine River for a 6-year period (2007-2012). The model outputs were in good agreement with the peak of nitrite downstream the WWTP as well as its slow decrease towards the estuary. Nitrite persistence between the WWTP and the estuary was mostly explained by similar production and consumption rates of nitrite in both water and sediment layers. The sediment layer constituted a significant source of nitrite, especially during high river discharges (0.1-0.4mgNh-1m-2). This points out how essential it is to represent the benthic layer in river water quality models, since it can constitute a source of nitrite to the water-column. As a consequence of anthropogenic emissions and in-river processes, nitrite fluxes to the estuary were significant and varied from 4.1 to 5.5TNd-1 in low and high water discharge conditions, respectively, over the 2007-2012 period. This study provides a methodology that can be applied to any anthropized river to realistically parametrize autochthonous and WWTP-related nitrifier communities and simulate nitrite dynamics. Based on simulation analysis, it is shown that high spatio-temporal resolution hydro-ecological models are efficient to 1) estimate water quality criteria and 2) forecast the effect of future management strategies. Process-based simulations constitute essential tools to complete our understanding of nutrient cycling, and to decrease monitoring costs in the context of water quality and eutrophication management in river ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)373-387
Number of pages15
JournalWater Research
Publication statusPublished - 5 Apr 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Modelling
  • Nitrification
  • Nitrite
  • River
  • Water quality
  • WWTP


Dive into the research topics of 'Modelling the fate of nitrite in an urbanized river using experimentally obtained nitrifier growth parameters'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this