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Understanding nutrient biogeochemistry in agricultural catchments: the challenge of appropriate monitoring frequencies

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date2014
JournalEnvironmental Science: Processes and Impacts
Journal number7
Volume16
Number of pages16
Pages1676-1691
Early online date17/04/14
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

We evaluate different frequencies of riverine nutrient concentration measurement to interpret diffuse pollution in agricultural catchments. We focus on three nutrient fractions, nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N), total reactive phosphorus (TRP) and total phosphorus (TP) observed using conventional remote laboratory-based, low-frequency sampling and automated, in situ high-frequency monitoring. We demonstrate the value of low-frequency routine nutrient monitoring in providing long-term data on changes in surface water and groundwater nutrient concentrations. By contrast, automated high-frequency nutrient observations provide insight into the fine temporal structure of nutrient dynamics in response to a full spectrum of flow dynamics. We found good agreement between concurrent in situ and laboratory-based determinations for nitrate-nitrogen (Pearson's R = 0.93, p < 0.01). For phosphorus fractions: TP (R = 0.84, p < 0.01) and TRP (R = 0.79, p < 0.01) the relationships were poorer due to the underestimation of P fractions observed in situ and storage-related changes of grab samples. A detailed comparison between concurrent nutrient data obtained by the hourly in situ automated monitoring and weekly-to-fortnightly grab sampling reveals a significant information loss at the extreme range of nutrient concentration for low-frequency sampling.