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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

A New, Catchment-Scale Integrated Water Quality Model of Phosphorus, Dissolved Oxygen, Biochemical Oxygen Demand and Phytoplankton: INCA-Phosphorus Ecology (PEco)

Crossman, Jill; Bussi, Gianbattista; Whitehead, Paul G.; Butterfield, Daniel; Lannergard, Emma; Futter, Martyn N.


Process-based models are commonly used to design management strategies to reduce excessive algal growth and subsequent hypoxia. However, management targets typically focus on phosphorus control, under the assumption that successful nutrient reduction will solve hypoxia issues. Algal responses to nutrient drivers are not linear and depend on additional biotic and abiotic controls. In order to generate a comprehensive assessment of the effectiveness of nutrient control strategies, independent nutrient, dissolved oxygen (DO), temperature and algal models must be coupled, which can increase overall uncertainty. Here, we extend an existing process-based phosphorus model (INtegrated CAtchment model of Phosphorus dynamics) to include biological oxygen demand (BOD), dissolved oxygen (DO) and algal growth and decay (INCA-PEco). We applied the resultant model in two eutrophied mesoscale catchments with continental and maritime climates. We assessed effects of regional differences in climate and land use on parameter importance during calibration using a generalised sensitivity analysis. We successfully reproduced in-stream total phosphorus (TP), suspended sediment, DO, BOD and chlorophyll-a (chl-a) concentrations across a range of temporal scales, land uses and climate regimes. While INCA-PEco is highly parameterized, model uncertainty can be significantly reduced by focusing calibration and monitoring efforts on just 18 of those parameters. Specifically, calibration time could be optimized by focusing on hydrological parameters (base flow, Manning's n and river depth). In locations with significant inputs of diffuse nutrients, e.g., in agricultural catchments, detailed data on crop growth and nutrient uptake rates are also important. The remaining parameters provide flexibility to the user, broaden model applicability, and maximize its functionality under a changing climate.


phytoplankton; dissolved oxygen; biological oxygen demand; modelling; sensitivity analysis

Published in

2021, Volume: 13, number: 5, article number: 723
Publisher: MDPI