Quantification Of Seasonal Sediment And Phosphorus Transport Dynamics In An Agricultural Watershed Using Radiometric Fingerprinting Techniques

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Journal of Soils and Sediments

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Springer Berlin Heidelberg





Phosphorus (P) is a limiting nutrient for most US Midwestern aquatic systems and, therefore, increases of P, through point or non-point sources (NPS) of pollution such as agriculture, causes eutrophication. Identifying specific NPS contributions (e.g., upland vs. stream channels) for sediments and P is difficult due to the distributed nature of the pollution. Therefore, studies which link the spatial and temporal aspects of sediment and P transport in these systems can help better characterize the extent of NPS pollution.

Materials and methods

Our study used fingerprinting techniques to determine sources of sediments in an agricultural watershed (the North Fork of the Pheasant Branch watershed; 12.4 km2 area) in Wisconsin, USA, during the spring, summer, and fall seasons of 2009. The primary sources considered were uplands (cultivated fields), stream bank, and streambed. The model used fallout radionuclides, 137Cs, and 210Pbxs, along with total P to determine primary sediment sources. A shorter-lived fallout radioisotope, 7Be, was used to determine the sediment age and percent new sediments in streambed and suspended sediment samples (via the 7Be/210Pbxs ratio).

Results and discussion

Upland areas were the primary source of suspended sediments in the stream channels followed by stream banks. The sediment age and percent new sediment for the streambed and suspended sediments showed that the channel contained and transported newer (or more recently tagged with 7Be) sediments in the spring season (9–131 days sediment age), while relatively old sediments (165–318 days) were moving through the channel system during the fall season.


Upland areas are the major contributors to in-stream suspended sediments in this watershed. Sediment resuspension in stream channels could play an important role during the later part of the year. Best management practices should be targeted in the upland areas to reduce the export of sediments and sediment-bound P from agricultural watersheds.

Responsible editor: Rajith Mukundan


Fallout radionuclides, Phosphorus, Sediment fingerprinting, Sediment sources