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Research article2023Peer reviewedOpen access

Long-term water quality monitoring in agricultural catchments in Sweden: Impact of climatic drivers on diffuse nutrient loads

Ezzati, G.; Kyllmar, K.; Barron, J.


Water quality related to non-point source pollution continues to pose challenges in agricultural landscapes, despite two completed cycles of Water Framework Directive actions by farmers and landowners. Future climate projections will cause new challenges in landscape hydrology and subsequently, the potential responses in water quality. Investigating the nutrient trends in surface waters and studying the efficiency of mitigation measures revealed that loads and mea-sures are highly variable both spatially and temporally in catchments with different agro-climatic and environmental conditions. In Sweden, nitrogen and phosphorus loads in eight agricultural catchments (470-3300 ha) have been in-tensively monitored for >20 years. This study investigated the relationship between precipitation, air temperature, and discharge patterns in relation to nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) loads at catchment outlets. The time series data anal-ysis was carried out by integrating Mann-Kendall test, Pettitt break-points, and Generalized Additive Model. The re-sults showed that the nutrient loads highly depend on water discharge, which had large variation in annual average (158-441 mm yr-1). The annual average loads were also considerably different among the catchments with total N (TN) loads ranging from 6.76 to 35.73 kg ha-1, and total P (TP) loads ranging from 0.11 to 1.04 kg ha-1. The climatic drivers were highly significant indicators of nutrient loads but with varying degree of significance. Precipitation (28-962 mm yr-1) was a significant indicator of TN loads in five catchments (loamy sand/sandy loam) while annual average temperature (6.5-8.7 degrees C yr-1) was a significant driver of TN loads in six out of eight catchments. TP loads were associated with precipitation in two catchments and significantly correlated to water discharge in six catchments. Con-sidering the more frequent occurrence of extreme weather events, it is necessary to tailor N and P mitigation measures to future climate-change features of precipitation, temperature, and discharge.


Agricultural catchment; Nutrient load; Climatic driver; Nitrogen; Phosphorus; Water quality

Published in

Science of the Total Environment
2023, Volume: 864, article number: 160978
Publisher: ELSEVIER

      SLU Authors

      • Sustainable Development Goals

        Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
        Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

        UKÄ Subject classification

        Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use

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