Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 16, Issue 5, pp 1643–1654 | Cite as

Characterisation of agricultural drainage ditch sediments along the phosphorus transfer continuum in two contrasting headwater catchments

  • Mairead Shore
  • Phil Jordan
  • Per-Erik Mellander
  • Mary Kelly-Quinn
  • Karen Daly
  • James Tom Sims
  • David P. Wall
  • Alice Rowena Melland
Sediments, Sec 3 • Hillslope and River Basin Sediment Dynamics • Research Article



This study investigated the phosphorus (P) source, mobilisation and transport potential of ditch bed sediments as well as surrounding field and bank soils in two agricultural headwater catchments with contrasting soil drainage capacities. This information is important for discerning the potential for ditches to attenuate or augment transfers of P from upstream sources and thus for developing appropriate management strategies for these features.

Materials and methods

Phosphorus sources were characterised using the Mehlich3-P, water-soluble P and total P tests. Phosphorus mobilisation potential was characterised using the Mehlich3-AL/P, Mehlich3-Ca/P and DESPRAL P tests. Phosphorus transport potential was characterised using data collected on the presence/absence of surface water in ditches during field surveys and downstream turbidity data.

Results and discussion

Ditch sediments had similar P source contents (Mehlich3-P, water-soluble P and total P) to the surrounding field soils and higher P contents than bank soils. However, calcium contents of sediments in the poorly drained catchment reflected the deep sub-soils rather than the surrounding field and bank soils. Mehlich3-Al/P and Mehlich3-Ca/P contents of ditch sediments in the well (non-calcareous) and poorly (calcareous) drained catchments respectively indicated potential for P retention (above thresholds of 11.7 and 74, respectively). However, sediments were less aggregated than field soils and may mobilise more particulate P (PP) during rain events. Nevertheless, the majority of surveyed ditches dried out from March to September 2011; thus, their potential to mobilise PP may be less important than their capacity to attenuate soluble and PP during this time.


In these and similar catchments, soluble P attenuation and particulate P mobilisation should be maximised and minimised, respectively, for example, by cleaning out the sediments before they become saturated with P and encouraging vegetation growth on ditch beds. This study also highlighted the influence of deep sub-soils on soluble P retention in ditches and thus the utility of characterising soils below depths normally included in soil classifications.


Attenuation Drainage ditches Mobilisation Phosphorus Sediment 



This research is a part of the Agricultural Catchments Programme, funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Teagasc Walsh Fellowship Programme. We acknowledge the contributions from programme scientists, technicians, technologists and advisors. We would also like to thank catchment farmers and their representatives for participation and access to farmland


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mairead Shore
    • 1
  • Phil Jordan
    • 2
  • Per-Erik Mellander
    • 1
  • Mary Kelly-Quinn
    • 4
  • Karen Daly
    • 3
  • James Tom Sims
    • 5
  • David P. Wall
    • 3
  • Alice Rowena Melland
    • 6
  1. 1.Teagasc, Agricultural Catchments Programme, Johnstown CastleWexford, CoWexfordIreland
  2. 2.School of Geography and Environmental SciencesUniversity of UlsterColeraineIreland
  3. 3.Teagasc, Environmental Research Centre, Johnstown CastleWexford, CoWexfordIreland
  4. 4.School of Environmental and Biological SciencesUniversity College DublinDublinIreland
  5. 5.Department of Plant and Soil SciencesUniversity of DelawareNewarkUSA
  6. 6.University of Southern QueenslandToowoombaAustralia

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