Sediment Source Assessment in a Lowland Watershed Using Nitrogen Stable Isotopes

James F. Fox, Charles M. Davis, Darren K. Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Sediment sources and transported sediments were sampled in a lowland watershed with pronounced fine sediment storage in the streambed. Sediments were analyzed for carbon and nitrogen content and stable nitrogen isotopic composition. Analysis of the data shows that temporarily stored streambed sediments dominate the sediment load during moderate- and low-flow hydrologic events. Modeling of sediment transport and nitrogen elemental and isotopic mass balance was performed for the watershed for a 12-month time period using a continuous, conceptual-based model. The model results show that during moderate- and low-flow hydrologic events, the streambed is slowly downcutting. During very high-flow hydrologic events, deposition is pronounced in the streambed and sediment is replenished to the bed. Nitrogen model results show that elemental and isotopic nitrogen of streambed sediments vary substantially over the simulation period. In this manner, the streambed in a lowland watershed functions as a temporary storage zone that, in turn, can impact the nitrogen elemental and isotopic signature of sediments. The variation could significantly impact estimates of sediment provenance using nitrogen tracer-based methods. Future work should consider both hydrologic and biogeochemical control on the nitrogen isotopic signature of sediments in small lowland watersheds and streams where a significant portion of deposited fines are temporarily stored.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1192-1204
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the American Water Resources Association
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2010


  • Erosion
  • Isotopes
  • Nitrogen
  • Sediment transport
  • Streambed storage
  • Watershed

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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