Modelling particle residence times in agricultural river basins using a sediment budget model and fallout radionuclide tracers
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© 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Contemporary patterns in river basin sediment dynamics have been widely investigated but the timescales associated with current sediment delivery processes have received much less attention. Furthermore, no studies have quantified the effect of recent land use change on the residence or travel times of sediment transported through river basins. Such information is crucial for understanding contemporary river basin function and responses to natural and anthropogenic disturbances or management interventions. To address this need, we adopt a process-based modelling approach to quantify changes in spatial patterns and residence times of suspended sediment in response to recent agricultural land cover change. The sediment budget model SedNet was coupled with a mass balance model of particle residence times based on atmospheric and fluvial fluxes of three fallout radionuclide tracers (7Be, excess 210Pb and 137Cs). Mean annual fluxes of suspended sediment were simulated in seven river basins (38-920 km2) in south-west England for three land cover surveys (1990, 2000 and 2007). Suspended sediment flux increased across the basins from 0.5-15 to 1.4-37 kt y-1 in response to increasing arable land area between consecutive surveys. The residence time model divided basins into slow (upper surface soil) and rapid (river channel and connected hillslope sediment source area) transport compartments. Estimated theoretical residence times in the slow compartment decreased from 13-48 to 5.6-14 ky with the increase in basin sediment exports. In contrast, the short residence times for the rapid compartment increased from 185-256 to 260-368 d as the modelled connected source area expanded with increasing sediment supply from more arable land. The increase in sediment residence time was considered to correspond to longer sediment travel distances linked to larger connected source areas. This novel coupled modelling approach provides unique insight into river basin responses to recent environmental change not otherwise available from conventional measurement techniques.
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