Articles | Volume 1, issue 3
30 Sep 1997
30 Sep 1997

Sediment sources in the Upper Severn catchment: a fingerprinting approach

A. L. Collins, D. E. Walling, and G. J. L. Leeks

Abstract. Suspended sediment sources in the Upper Severn catchment are quantified using a composite fingerprinting technique combining statistically-verified signatures with a multivariate mixing model. Composite fingerprints are developed from a suite of diagnostic properties comprising trace metal (Fe, Mn, AI), heavy metal (Cu, Zn, Pb, Cr, Co, Ni), base cation (Na, Mg, Ca, K), organic (C, N), radiometric (137Cs, 210Pb), and other (total P) determinands. A numerical mixing model, to compare the fingerprints of contemporary catchment source materials with those of fluvial suspended sediment in transit and those of recent overbank floodplain deposits, provides a means of quantifying present and past sediment sources respectively. Sources are classified in terms of eroding surface soils under different land uses and channel banks. Eroding surface soils are the most important source of the contemporary suspended sediment loads sampled at the Institute of Hydrology flow gauging stations at Plynlimon and at Abermule. The erosion of forest soils, associated with the autumn and winter commercial activities of the Forestry Commission, is particularly evident. Reconstruction of sediment provenance over the recent past using a sediment core from the active river floodpiain at Abermule, in conjunction with a 137Cs chronology, demonstrates the significance of recent phases of afforestation and deforestation for accelerated catchment soil erosion.