Nitrate pollution of groundwater systems is a serious problem in many countries. Application of nitrogen-containing fertilizers to irrigated crops is widely known as the major cause of nitrate pollution in groundwater systems. Nitrate is assumed to move downward through the vadose zone (unsaturated zone) and then move horizontally in the groundwater. But a recent study revealed that this may not be the case. Abit et al. (2008) evaluated the fate of nitrate in the capillary fringe (i.e. the subsurface layer at the boundary between the vadose zone and the zone of saturation) and shallow groundwater for a sandy soil with shallow water table. They found that nitrate entered the capillary fringe from the unsaturated zone then moved horizontally in the capillary fringe until it was partially carried into the groundwater by the fluctuating water table following rain events.Reference
Abit SM, Amoozegar A, Vepraskas MJ, Niewoehner CP. 2008. Fate of nitrate in the capillary fringe and shallow groundwater in a drained sandy soil. Geoderma 146: 209-215.