Assessing impacts of cemeteries on water quality in an urban headwater watershed with mixed human-built infrastructure

Samuel Nesheim, Zhongjie Yu, Samuel Tuttle, Jenna Klein, Tao Wen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cemeteries are understudied integral components to urban watersheds, which provide ecosystem services but can also export nutrients, trace elements, and other contaminants to nearby water bodies. In this study, we focus on Meadowbrook Creek, an urban headwater stream in Syracuse, New York (USA), which has shown significant nitrate contributions from a local cemetery. We collected biweekly surface water samples over the course of 1 year from 2022 to 2023 for analysis of major and trace elemental concentrations including Na, Ca, Mg, K, F, Cl, sulfate, and nitrate. Here, we aim to assess the impact of various human infrastructures on urban stream water quality with a particular focus on the cemetery and nitrate. A comparison between the new dataset in this study and previously reported water chemistry data in Meadowbrook in 2012 suggests a decade-long impact of road salting and the cemetery on water quality particularly with respect to Na, Cl, and nitrate. Sulfate, Mg, Ca, and K are likely mainly geogenic. Stable nitrogen isotope data, the usage of concrete or steel vaults in the cemetery in the past 50 years, and the lack of correlation between nitrate and fluoride concentrations in stream water argue against burial decay products being a major source of nitrate to the stream. Instead, other nitrate sources that exist in the cemetery such as, fertilizer, decaying plant material, and wastewater, are more viable dominant nitrate sources. In addition, nitrate loading calculations indicate that the groundwater-connected reach, including the cemetery, acts as an annual net sink for nitrate despite the seasonally varying sink-source patterns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere15128
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2024


  • burial practices
  • cemetery
  • ecosystem services
  • nitrate
  • nutrient
  • road salt
  • urban hydrology
  • urban stream

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


Dive into the research topics of 'Assessing impacts of cemeteries on water quality in an urban headwater watershed with mixed human-built infrastructure'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this