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Research article2019Peer reviewedOpen access

An evaluation of high frequency turbidity as a proxy for riverine total phosphorus concentrations

Lannergard, Emma E.; Ledesma, Jose L. J.; Folster, Jens; Futter, Martyn N.


Surface water eutrophication resulting from excessive phosphorus (P) inputs is one of today's most challenging environmental issues. Riverine total phosphorus (TP) concentrations have high temporal variability, which complicates flux estimation. We evaluated the usefulness of high frequency in-situ turbidity measurements as a proxy for TP in Savjaan, a river draining a mixed land use catchment (722 km(2)) in central Sweden. Turbidity was monitored every 10th-15th minute during 6 consecutive years (2012-2017). Linear regression showed a good relationship between high frequency turbidity and TP (r(2) = 0.64) and could hence be used for comparison of flux estimation methods. Predictive power of the turbidity-TP relationship was not improved by adding seasons, hydrograph rising/falling limb or high/lowstreamdischarge to the model which argues for a single transfer function relating turbidity and TP. Both TP and turbidity were log-normally distributed. However, flux estimates were sensitive to data transformation; predicted TP concentrations and fluxes based on log-transformed data were biased towards lower concentrations and fluxes compared to non-transformed data. In five of six years grab sample and high frequency estimated TP fluxes were similar (grab sample estimates-10% to + 13% P transport compared to high frequency flux estimates). The exception was in 2013, when a 50-year spring flood occurred, and the grab sample estimated flux was 56% larger than that estimated from high frequency data. Thus, the flux comparisons were mostly affected by stream discharge, which underlines the importance of capturing high discharge episodes with, e.g. in situ sensors. While uncertainties regarding the use of turbidity as a proxy for TP remain, it is clear that credible water chemistry data can be obtained with current high frequency sensors. We conclude that high frequency data can be used to better understand catchment response to external pressures and gain insights into water quality that will be missed with grab sampling. (C) 2018 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY license.


High frequency monitoring; In situ sensor; Proxy relations; Total phosphorus; Turbidity; Flux estimations

Published in

Science of the Total Environment
2019, Volume: 651, pages: 103-113