, Volume 410, Issue 0, pp 111–122

Retention of nutrients in river systems: dependence on specific runoff and hydraulic load


  • Horst Behrendt
    • Department of Lowland Rivers and Shallow LakesInstitute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries
  • Dieter Opitz
    • Department of Lowland Rivers and Shallow LakesInstitute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries

DOI: 10.1023/A:1003735225869

Cite this article as:
Behrendt, H. & Opitz, D. Hydrobiologia (1999) 410: 111. doi:10.1023/A:1003735225869


The total nutrient inputs (emissions) from point and diffuse sources into 100 different river basins in Europe are compared with the measured load (transport). The catchment areas range between 121 and 194 000 km2. Other characteristic parameters of the basins, including specific runoff, surface water area and the nutrient concentration show large differences. Independent of the different methods applied for estimating nutrient emissions, these are in general higher than the actual transport. The ratio of the transport to the emission was used to exclude the effects of basin size and to facilitate comparisons between river basins. A statistical model of the retention, including net sedimentation and denitrification, is derived for the description of the discrepancy between the measured transport and the estimated total emission of nutrients, which is assumed to reflect retention of nutrients in a river system. It was found that the load-weighted retention of phosphorus is controlled practically only by the specific runoff of the basin. The load- weighted retention of nitrogen is further dependent on the proportion of the basin area occupied by surface water, the basin size itself and the mean annual nitrogen concentration at a specific monitoring station. Application of the statistical model reduces the mean deviation between the calculated emissions and the values given by different authors from about 40% to 20%.

phosphorusnitrogenretentionriver systemsspecific runoffhydraulic load

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999