Comparison of sampling designs for sediment source fingerprinting in an agricultural watershed in Atlantic Canada

  • Monica Boudreault
  • Alexander J. KoiterEmail author
  • David A. Lobb
  • Kui Liu
  • Glenn Benoy
  • Philip N. Owens
  • Sheng LiEmail author
Sediment Fingerprinting in the Critical Zone



Sediment fingerprinting is increasingly being used to improve the understanding of sediment dynamics within the critical zone and provide information that can help guide management decisions at the watershed scale. The objectives of this study were to investigate both the implications of different sediment fingerprinting sampling designs and spatial scales on the characterization of sediment dynamics in a predominantly agricultural watershed in northwestern New Brunswick, Canada.

Materials and methods

Color and radionuclide fingerprints were used to discriminate between three potential sediment sources: agricultural topsoil, agricultural streambanks, and forested areas (topsoil and streambanks). Suspended sediment was collected seasonally, between 2008 and 2014, at five sites with drainage areas ranging from 3.0 to 13.4 km2. Using the same source and sediment data set, multiple-, nested-, and local-location fingerprinting sampling designs were employed to investigate the influence of scale of observation, geomorphic connectivity, land use, and the heterogeneity of source fingerprints on apportionment results.

Results and discussion

Sediment collected in the headwaters was primarily derived from forested areas while the sediment collected at the outlet of the watershed was primarily from agricultural topsoil. When comparing the multiple- and nested-location designs, it was found that accounting for the spatial variability in the fingerprint properties of each source had a small difference in the sediment apportionment results. Furthermore, the local-location design demonstrated that the sediment collected at each location was composed of predominately local sources as opposed to upstream sediment entering the local catchment.


Assessment of the sources of sediment at a range of spatial scales better accounts for both geomorphic connectivity and differences in land use throughout the watershed. Overall, each of the three fingerprinting sampling designs provided different information that can be used to guide soil and water conservation management.


Agriculture Sampling design Sediment fingerprinting Water quality 



Assistance with laboratory analyses and fieldwork was provided by Serban Danielescu, Rick Allaby, Fangzhou Zheng, Zisheng Xing, Junyu Qi, Lionel Stevens, Sylvie Lavoie, John Monteith, Meagan Betts, Tegan Smith, Eva Slavicek, Yulia Kupriyanovich, and Brendon Brooks.

Funding information

This work was supported by several synergy projects funded by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), and the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). Major funding projects include, but not limited to, AAFC A-base projects #1538: “Reducing sediment, N and P loading from arable cropping systems to receiving waters in eastern Canada (PEI, NB, NS, QC)”, ECCC National Agri-Environmental Standards Initiative, and NSERC strategic project (STPGP 413426-2011): “Development of environmental fingerprinting techniques for sources of sediment and associated phosphorus within agricultural watersheds of Canada”.

Supplementary material

11368_2019_2306_MOESM1_ESM.png (148 kb)
Fig. S1 Median grain size of the < 2 mm fraction for the three sources and the suspended sediment at each of the five sampling locations. Red line indicates the commonly used upper limit of grain size (63 μm) used in many fingerprinting studies (PNG 148 kb)
11368_2019_2306_MOESM2_ESM.png (341 kb)
Fig. S2 Box and whisker plots showing the distribution of the eight color-based coefficients (unitless) and the 137Cs activity (Bq kg−1) for the three sources and the suspended sediment collected at the five sampling locations (PNG 341 kb)
11368_2019_2306_MOESM3_ESM.png (1.3 mb)
Fig. S3 Linear regression demonstrating the variability in the relation between median grain size (as measured on the < 2 mm fraction) and the eight color-based coefficients (unitless) and the 137Cs activity (Bq kg−1) for each of the three potential sources of sediment. (unitless) and the 137Cs activity(Bq kg−1) for each of the three potential sources of sediment (PNG 1358 kb)
11368_2019_2306_MOESM4_ESM.docx (15 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 15 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Fredericton Research and Development CentreAgriculture and Agri-Food CanadaFrederictonCanada
  2. 2.Department of Soil ScienceUniversity of ManitobaWinnipegCanada
  3. 3.Department of GeographyBrandon UniversityBrandonCanada
  4. 4.Swift Current Research and Development CentreAgriculture and Agri-Food CanadaSwift CurrentCanada
  5. 5.Faculty of Forestry and Environmental Management and Canadian Rivers InstituteUniversity of New BrunswickFrederictonCanada
  6. 6.Environmental Science Program and Quesnel River Research CentreUniversity of Northern British ColumbiaPrince GeorgeCanada

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