Riparian buffers can influence water quality in downstream lakes or rivers by buffering non-point source pollution in upstream agricultural fields. With increasing nitrogen (N) pollution in small agricultural watersheds, a major function of riparian buffers is to retain N in the soil. A series of field experiments were conducted to monitor pollutant transport in riparian buffers of small watersheds, while numerical model-based analysis is scarce. In this study, we set up a field experiment to monitor the retention rates of total N in different widths of buffer strips and used a finite element model (HYDRUS 2D/3D) to simulate the total N transport in the riparian buffer of an agricultural non-point source polluted area in the Liaohe River basin. The field experiment retention rates for total N were 19.4%, 26.6%, 29.5%, and 42.9% in 1,3,4, and 6m-wide buffer strips, respectively. Throughout the simulation period, the concentration of total N of the 1mwide buffer strip reached a maximum of 1.27 mg/cm3
at 30 min, decreasing before leveling off. The concentration of total N about the 3mwide buffer strip consistently increased, with a maximum of 1.05 mg/cm3
observed at 60 min. Under rainfall infiltration, the buffer strips of different widths showed a retention effect on total N transport, and the optimum effect was simulated in the 6mwide buffer strip. A comparison between measured and simulated data revealed that finite element simulation could simulate N transport in the soil of riparian buffer strips.
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