A review of source tracking techniques for fine sediment within a catchment

Zhuo Guan, Xiang Yu Tang, Jae E. Yang, Yong Sik Ok, Zhihong Xu, Taku Nishimura, Brian J. Reid

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Excessive transport of fine sediment, and its associated pollutants, can cause detrimental impacts in aquatic environments. It is therefore important to perform accurate sediment source apportionment to identify hot spots of soil erosion. Various tracers have been adopted, often in combination, to identify sediment source type and its spatial origin; these include fallout radionuclides, geochemical tracers, mineral magnetic properties and bulk and compound-specific stable isotopes. In this review, the applicability of these techniques to particular settings and their advantages and limitations are reviewed. By synthesizing existing approaches, that make use of multiple tracers in combination with measured changes of channel geomorphological attributes, an integrated analysis of tracer profiles in deposited sediments in lakes and reservoirs can be made. Through a multi-scale approach for fine sediment tracking, temporal changes in soil erosion and sediment load can be reconstructed and the consequences of changing catchment practices evaluated. We recommend that long-term, as well as short-term, monitoring of riverine fine sediment and corresponding surface and subsurface sources at nested sites within a catchment are essential. Such monitoring will inform the development and validation of models for predicting dynamics of fine sediment transport as a function of hydro-climatic and geomorphological controls. We highlight that the need for monitoring is particularly important for hilly catchments with complex and changing land use. We recommend that research should be prioritized for sloping farmland-dominated catchments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1221-1243
Number of pages23
JournalEnvironmental geochemistry and health
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Dec 1
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the GAIA Surface Soil Resource Inventory and Integration (SSORii) Project of MOE, Kangwon National University Research Grant (2013: C1009703-01-01), Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (RONPAKU Program, ID No. CAS-11313), National Natural Science Foundation of China (Nos. 21307152 and 41471268) and CAS President?s International Fellowship Initiative Fellowship (No. 2016VEA040).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.


  • Fine sediment
  • Mixing models
  • Source identification
  • Temporal markers
  • Tracking techniques

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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