Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 281–303 | Cite as

Sediments in urban river basins: a review of sediment–contaminant dynamics in an environmental system conditioned by human activities

  • Kevin G. TaylorEmail author
  • Philip N. Owens


Background, aim and scope

Over 50% of the global population live in urban centres and, therefore, an understanding of the processes acting upon urban systems is a global issue. The nature of human-made, often impervious, land surfaces and heavily engineered waterways results in hydrological and sedimentological systems in urbanised basins which contrast significantly to those within more natural (i.e. pristine, forested, agricultural) aquatic systems. In addition, the abundance of contamination sources in urban systems results in chemical pressures often manifested as high pollution concentrations or loadings, which in turn have detrimental impacts on human and ecosystem health. These lead to management and sustainability issues not generally encountered in more natural environments. The purpose of this review is to provide a state-of-the-art assessment of sediment sources, pathways and storage within urban river systems, to consider sediment management within urban systems and river basins, and examine the role of local and global environmental changes on sediment processes and management. Inevitably, much of the sediment that is transported within urbanised basins is contaminated, so this review also considers sediment–contaminant sources and interactions.

Conclusions and recommendations

We reach a number of conclusions and recommendations for future research. There is a need for better sampling and monitoring of sediment and sediment-associated contaminant fluxes and cycling in urban river channels and basins. This should include better techniques and studies to identify sources and transfers of road-deposited sediment (RDS), airborne particulate matter and sediments in the river system. Greater interdisciplinary research, combining sedimentologists, hydrologists, urban planners, urban archaeologists, chemists and biologists, is needed. More attention needs to focus on upscaling and connecting urban areas to the rest of the river basin, both upstream and downstream. Finally, there is a need to balance multiple needs (urban population, water resources) with likely trends in both urban development and global environmental change.


Contaminants River basin Sediment Sediment management Urban Urbanisation 



We would like to thank Fabienne Carraz, Peter Jackson, Judith Barrett and Davina Robertson for helpful comments and advice that have been incorporated into this paper, and Ulrich Förstner and Wim Salomons for formal reviews. PNO would like to thank Elena Koleniskova for translating Savenko (2006). We would also like to thank the NERC, EPSRC and the Environment Agency of England and Wales for funding research that has contributed to this review.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental and Geographical SciencesManchester Metropolitan UniversityManchesterUK
  2. 2.Environmental Science ProgramUniversity of Northern British ColumbiaPrince GeorgeCanada

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