The potential for colour to provide a robust alternative to high-cost sediment source fingerprinting: Assessment using eight catchments in England

A - Papers appearing in refereed journals

Pulley, S. and Collins, A. L. 2021. The potential for colour to provide a robust alternative to high-cost sediment source fingerprinting: Assessment using eight catchments in England. Science of the Total Environment. 792 (20 Oct), p. 148416.

AuthorsPulley, S. and Collins, A. L.

Excess diffuse fine sediment losses from agriculture are associated with a reduction in the ecological status of lakes and rivers. Agri-environment initiatives aim to help reduce these excessive losses through targeted on-farm advice and capital grants. However, to deliver optimum cost-benefit such initiatives must target the most important sediment sources. Sediment source fingerprinting provides an approach by which sediment provenance data can be generated; however, conventional tracers are expensive and state-of-the-art data processing for source discrimination and apportionment requires significant expertise. In consequence, sediment fingerprinting is not routinely used for catchment management. Against this context, sediment colour measured using an ordinary document scanner is trialled as an inexpensive and accessible tracer in eight catchments classed as high priority for an agri-environment initiative in England. Colour is interpreted using simple scatter bi-plots of source and sediment samples and compared to the results produced by a conventional composite tracer sediment source fingerprinting methodology. It was found that in two study catchments, sediment colour was as effective as conventional sediment fingerprinting. In four catchments, sediment colour provided less source discrimination or minor differences in results but still identified the most important targets for sediment mitigation. In two catchments, colour was un-successful; however, significant challenges were also encountered with more conventional tracers due to specific local conditions. The findings suggest that use of low-cost colour tracers by non-experts has the potential to significantly increase the uptake of sediment source tracing to improve the cost-benefit of agri-environment initiatives combating the degradation of water quality and aquatic ecology by accelerated sediment losses.

KeywordsFarm management; Agri-environment; Sediment fingerprinting; Sediment sources; Aquatic pollution
Year of Publication2021
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Journal citation792 (20 Oct), p. 148416
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Web address (URL)
Open accessPublished as non-open access
FunderBiotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
Funder project or codeS2N - Soil to Nutrition - Work package 3 (WP3) - Sustainable intensification - optimisation at multiple scales
Environment Agency project 19936 (Catchment Sensitive Farming programme)
Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Print20 Oct 2021
Online15 Jun 2021
Publication process dates
Accepted08 Jun 2021
PublisherElsevier Science Bv

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