Environmental Earth Sciences

, Volume 69, Issue 2, pp 373–380 | Cite as

Turbidity as a proxy for total suspended solids (TSS) and particle facilitated pollutant transport in catchments

  • Hermann RügnerEmail author
  • Marc Schwientek
  • Barbara Beckingham
  • Bertram Kuch
  • Peter Grathwohl
Special Issue


Transport of hydrophobic organic pollutants in rivers is mainly coupled to transport of suspended particles. Turbidity measurements are often used to assess the amount of suspended solids in water. In this study, a monitoring campaign is presented where the total concentration of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), the amount of total suspended solids (TSS), and turbidity was measured in water samples from five neighboring catchments in southwest Germany. Linear correlations of turbidity and TSS were obtained which were in close agreement to the literature data. From linear regressions of turbidity versus total PAH concentrations in water, mean concentrations of PAH on suspended particles could be calculated and these varied by catchment. These values furthermore comprise a robust measure of the average sediment quality in a given catchment. Since in the catchments investigated in this study, PAH concentrations on suspended particles were stable over a large turbidity range (1–114 Nephelometric Turbidity Units), turbidity could be used as a proxy for total PAHs and likely other highly hydrophobic organic pollutants in river water if the associated correlations are established. Based on that, online monitoring of turbidity (e.g., by optical backscattering sensors) seems very promising to determine annual pollutant fluxes.


Turbidity Total suspended solids Hydrophobic pollutants Particle-facilitated transport Catchment hydrology 



This work was supported by a grant from the Ministry of Science, Research and Arts of Baden-Württemberg (AZ Zu 33-721.3-2) and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, UFZ, Leipzig.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hermann Rügner
    • 1
    Email author
  • Marc Schwientek
    • 1
  • Barbara Beckingham
    • 2
  • Bertram Kuch
    • 3
  • Peter Grathwohl
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Water and Earth System Science (WESS) Competence ClusterC/O Eberhard Karls University of TübingenTübingenGermany
  2. 2.Center of Applied GeoscienceEberhard Karls University of TübingenTübingenGermany
  3. 3.Institute of Sanitary Engineering, Water Quality and Solid Waste ManagementUniversity of StuttgartStuttgartGermany

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