The environmental behaviour of beryllium-7 and implications for its use as a sediment tracer
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The use of cosmogenic beryllium-7 (7Be) as a soil and sediment tracer relies upon a number of important assumptions which to date have not been fully underpinned by supporting data. As a catchment management tool 7Be offers unique potential to assess the effects of recent land use or climate change but further research is required to provide confidence in key data and elucidate sources of uncertainty. Through a range of laboratory and field studies, this thesis aims to explore knowledge gaps relating to i) the temporal and spatial dynamics of 7Be activity in rainfall which has importance in the context of estimating fallout input during erosion studies ii) adsorption behaviour in soils which is of critical importance when considering tracer stability at the field and catchment-scale and iii) the reliability of erosion estimates using 7Be inventories at the slope-scale to address the current lack of model validation. Findings showed temporal and spatial variability of 7Be fallout emphasising the need for regular site-specific sampling to determine fallout flux during erosion studies. Data supported the assumption of rapid tracer adsorption upon fallout although highlighted the potential for 7Be mobility under changing environmental parameters, thus, raising questions with regard to tracer stability at the catchment-scale. Field investigations demonstrated the potential for current models to overestimate erosion rates by failing to accurately represent key model components, namely, 7Be depth distributions, particle size enrichment and fallout input dynamics. Where these factors cannot be determined directly, a range of erosion estimates should be given based upon realistic sensitivity analysis of model components. In this manner, reported uncertainties will reflect field processes rather than propagated analytical uncertainty alone.
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