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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

Land use, geology and soil properties control nutrient concentrations in headwater streams

Djodjic, Faruk; Bieroza, Magdalena; Bergstrom, Lars


Nutrient losses from headwater catchments (<50 km(2)) cause eutrophication problems downstream. Catchment properties are strongly reflected in the levels of nutrient concentrations in headwater streams. Based on measurements of total and dissolved nitrogen (TN, DN) and phosphorus (TP, DP) in 235 small headwater streams, we showed that proportion of arable land in a catchment had the strongest positive effect on nutrient concentrations, with coefficient of determination (R-2) of 0.54, 0.64, 0.45, and 0.51 for TN, DN, TP, and DP, respectively. In contrast, increased proportion of forest and wetland led to lower nutrient concentrations in streams. The geological composition of catchments had a major influence on the soil properties. In turn, certain soil properties, such as clay content and content of aluminum (Al), an important binding agent of P. influenced losses of particulate P (PP) and DP, respectively. Consequently, by using soil properties as a link between geology and water quality, areas potentially sensitive to nutrient losses were identified by classifying bedrock categories into three geological groups. Approximately 25% of Swedish arable land was identified as potentially sensitive. Sensitive catchments were found in regions with sedimentary bedrock and showed higher concentrations of dissolved nutrient fractions even when the proportion of agricultural land was small, indicating higher background concentrations. (C) 2021 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier B.V.


Nitrogen; Phosphorus; Land use; Soil properties; Geology; Headwater catchments

Published in

Science of the Total Environment
2021, Volume: 772, article number: 145108
Publisher: ELSEVIER