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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2019

Determining suspended solids and total phosphorus from turbidity: comparison of high-frequency sampling with conventional monitoring methods

Villa, Ana; Foelster, Jens; Kyllmar, Katarina


Suspended solids (SS) are important carriers of pollutants such as phosphorus (P) in streams, but the sampling frequency in monitoring programs is usually insufficiently frequent to capture episodic SS and total P (TP) peaks. The suitability of turbidity and conductivity as a surrogate for SS and TP was studied using 108 monitoring stations located in catchments of different sizes, land uses, and pollution levels. The use of high-frequency turbidity measurements to estimate SS and TP loads was compared with the use of two sampling methods (grab, flow-proportional sampling) in a case study. When all samples were considered, turbidity was a good predictor of SS (r(2) = 0.76) and TP (r(2) = 0.75). For single sites, there was a large range in how well turbidity could predict the two variables. The site-specific turbidity-SS relationship was significant at 87% of sites (mean r(2) = 0.72). The site turbidity and conductivity-TP relationship was significant at 78% of sites (mean r(2) = 0.62). A stronger turbidity-SS relationship was found in catchments with a higher percentage of agricultural land. The turbidity and conductivity-TP relationship was stronger when the TP concentration was high. In the case study, TP loads were smallest when estimated with grab sampling, which missed several discharge peaks. Loads estimated with high-frequency turbidity measurements were 19-51% smaller than with flow-proportional sampling, probably due to differences in sampling points. High-frequency turbidity measurements can be a viable alternative to conventional sampling methods in studies on concentration dynamics and load estimates.


Turbidity; Suspended solids; High-frequency sensor; Phosphorus transport

Published in

Environmental Monitoring and Assessment
2019, Volume: 191, number: 10, article number: 605
Publisher: SPRINGER