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The selective removal of phosphorus from soil: Is event size important?

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date2001
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Number of pages8
Original languageEnglish


Data from the Woburn Erosion Reference Experiment (Bedfordshire, UK) were used to test the hypothesis that losses of phosphorus (P) in small erosion events are as great as those in infrequent large events, and to examine the effect of storm characteristics on the selective enrichment of P in eroded sediment. For almost every plot event in the period 1988 to 1994, the clay-sized fraction of the sediment was enriched compared with the soil of the plots. There was more variation in clay enrichment for smaller erosion events than for larger ones. The clay and P contents of the sediment were strongly correlated (p < 0.01), and there was a wider range of P concentrations in the sediment derived from small events than in that from large events. However, individual events resulting in small soil losses (<100 kg) did not account for greater P losses than larger events (>100 kg). The greater frequency of smaller events, combined with the likelihood of higher P concentrations in the sediment, therefore accounted for a greater proportion of the P lost over the 6-yr period than the infrequent large events. Phosphorus concentrations generally increased with increasing peak discharge and decreased with increasing event duration. For the same return period, P losses were generally greater from plots cultivated up and down the slope than from those cultivated across the slope. Overall, our results suggest that small erosion events should be controlled to prevent P contamination of surface waters and that the most effective means of doing this are by the introduction of minimal tillage techniques and across-slope cultivations.