Fingerprinting the sources of water-mobilized sediment threatening agricultural and water resource sustainability: Progress, challenges and prospects in China

  • Qiang Tang
  • Bojie Fu
  • Anbang Wen
  • Xinbao Zhang
  • Xiubin HeEmail author
  • Adrian L. CollinsEmail author
Open Access


Sediment source fingerprinting apportions the sources of sediment produced by water erosion by linking sampled sediment mixtures and landscape source materials using diagnostic and conservative fingerprints. Using this approach, the nature and location of active sediment sources across the catchment can be elucidated, generating information which is a key prerequisite for the design and implementation of catchment management strategies. The science of sediment source fingerprinting continues to attract much research globally, but to date, there have been relatively few fingerprinting studies in China. Here, there remain major challenges for the fingerprinting approach arising from the uniqueness of Chinese landscapes, including for instance, the complex land use configuration with highly fragmented or mosaic patches and the highly dynamic land use conversion rates, generating a need to test the physical basis for the discriminatory power and environmental behavior of both traditional and novel tracers. Future research is needed to investigate the applicability of tracer properties in different physiographic settings and to evaluate the potential strategic utility of the approach for supporting the improved management of soil and water sustainability. Here, the strategic availability of independent observation data for different components of catchment sediment budgets and well-maintained research infrastructure for plots, micro-catchments and drainage basins provides immediate opportunity for testing the approach and refining procedures. Such detailed testing across scales would be invaluable for promoting sediment source fingerprinting as both a scientific and management tool for informing soil and water conservation practices in China.


Soil erosion Sediment source fingerprinting Tracer properties Sediment budgets Catchment management China 



This work was supported by a Royal Society Newton International Fellowship (Grant No. NF161415, awarded to Q Tang and supervised by A L Collins), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 41771320 & 41771321), a UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) strategic programme (Grant No. BBS/E/C/000I0330—Soil to Nutrition), the Chinese Academy of Sciences “Light of West China” programme (awarded to Q Tang) and the President’s International Fellowship Initiative (Grant No. 2018VCA0033, awarded to A L Collins).


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sustainable Agriculture Sciences DepartmentRothamsted ResearchDevonUK
  2. 2.Key Laboratory of Mountain Surface Processes and Ecological Regulation, Institute of Mountain Hazards and EnvironmentChinese Academy of SciencesChengduChina
  3. 3.State Key Laboratory of Urban and Regional Ecology, Research Center for Eco-Environmental SciencesChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  4. 4.State Key Laboratory of Earth Surface Processes and Resource Ecology, Faculty of Geographical ScienceBeijing Normal UniversityBeijingChina

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