Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 17, Issue 6, pp 1537–1553 | Cite as

Methodological perspectives on the application of compound-specific stable isotope fingerprinting for sediment source apportionment

  • Hari R. Upadhayay
  • Samuel Bodé
  • Marco Griepentrog
  • Dries Huygens
  • Roshan M. Bajracharya
  • William H. Blake
  • Gerd Dercon
  • Lionel Mabit
  • Max Gibbs
  • Brice X. Semmens
  • Brian C. Stock
  • Wim Cornelis
  • Pascal Boeckx
Frontiers in Soils and Sediments • Review Article



Compound-specific stable isotope (CSSI) fingerprinting of sediment sources is a recently introduced tool to overcome some limitations of conventional approaches for sediment source apportionment. The technique uses the 13C CSSI signature of plant-derived fatty acids (δ13C-fatty acids) associated with soil minerals as a tracer. This paper provides methodological perspectives to advance the use of CSSI fingerprinting in combination with stable isotope mixing models (SIMMs) to apportion the relative contributions of different sediment sources (i.e. land uses) to sediments.

Results and discussion

CSSI fingerprinting allows quantitative estimation of the relative contribution of sediment sources within a catchment at a spatio-temporal resolution, taking into account the following approaches. First, application of CSSI fingerprinting techniques to complex catchments presents particular challenges and calls for well-designed sampling strategies and data handling. Hereby, it is essential to balance the effort required for representative sample collection and analyses against the need to accurately quantify the variability within the system. Second, robustness of the CSSI approach depends on the specificity and conservativeness of the δ13C-FA fingerprint. Therefore, saturated long-chain (>20 carbon atoms) FAs, which are biosynthesised exclusively by higher plants and are more stable than the more commonly used short-chain FAs, should be used. Third, given that FA concentrations can vary largely between sources, concentration-dependent SIMMs that are also able to incorporate δ13C-FA variability should be standard operation procedures to correctly assess the contribution of sediment sources via SIMMs.


This paper reflects on the use of δ13C-FAs in erosion studies and provides recommendations for its application. We strongly advise the use of saturated long-chain (>20 carbon atoms) FAs as tracers and concentration-dependent Bayesian SIMMs. We anticipate progress in CSSI sediment fingerprinting from two current developments: (i) development of hierarchical Bayesian SIMMs to better address catchment complexity and (ii) incorporation of dual isotope approaches (δ13C- and δ2H-FA) to improve estimates of sediment sources.


Biotracers Compound-specific stable isotope (CSSI) analysis Erosion Fatty acids (FAs) Sediment fingerprinting Stable isotope mixing models (SIMMS


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hari R. Upadhayay
    • 1
    • 2
  • Samuel Bodé
    • 1
  • Marco Griepentrog
    • 1
  • Dries Huygens
    • 1
  • Roshan M. Bajracharya
    • 2
  • William H. Blake
    • 3
  • Gerd Dercon
    • 4
  • Lionel Mabit
    • 4
  • Max Gibbs
    • 5
  • Brice X. Semmens
    • 6
  • Brian C. Stock
    • 6
  • Wim Cornelis
    • 7
  • Pascal Boeckx
    • 1
  1. 1.Isotope Bioscience Laboratory—ISOFYS, Faculty of Bioscience EngineeringGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  2. 2.Aquatic Ecology Center (AEC), School of ScienceKathmandu UniversityDhulikhelNepal
  3. 3.School of Geography, Earth and Environmental SciencesPlymouth UniversityPlymouthUK
  4. 4.Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, Department of Nuclear Sciences and ApplicationsInternational Atomic Energy Agency, IAEAViennaAustria
  5. 5.National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research LtdHamiltonNew Zealand
  6. 6.Scripps Institution of OceanographyUniversity of California San DiegoSan DiegoUSA
  7. 7.Department of Soil Management, Faculty of Bioscience EngineeringGhent UniversityGhentBelgium

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