Mesocosm-scale vertical subsurface flow constructed wetlands (SSF, 0.5 m length, 0.3 m width) with different reed-bed thickness, including standard SSF (SD, 0.6 m deep), shallow SSF (S, 0.3 m deep) and extremely shallow SSF (ES, 0.075 m deep) were set up at sewage treatment plant and their nutrient removal efficiencies from the sewage plant effluent were compared under three hydraulic loading rate (HLR) conditions of 0.15, 0.45 and 0.75 m3 m−2 d−1. A very interesting characteristics was found for the extremely shallow SSF, in which a high nitrogen removal efficiency was obtained despite the effective hydraulic retention time was only 1/8 times as long as the standard SSF. The results of kinetic analysis confirmed that the high volumetric nitrogen removal efficiency observed in the extremely shallow SSF did not depend on high response against the water temperature but on much higher basic nitrogen removal activity compared with other SSF. The phosphorus removal depending on the adsorption to sand in the reed-bed filter was, however, the lowest in the extremely shallow SSF although the volumetric removal efficiency was much higher compared with other SSF. Results of morphological analysis of rhizosphere collected from respective reed-bed suggested that the extremely shallow SSF lead to a very high-density rhizosphere, resulting in a high basic nitrogen removal activity and volumetric phosphorus removal efficiency.

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