Sources of fine-grained sediment to streams using fallout radionuclides in the Midwestern United States

Friday, 19 December 2014
Allen Gellis, USGS Maryland/Delaware/District of Columbia Water Science Center, Baltimore, MD, United States, Chris C Fuller, USGS, Menlo Park, CA, United States and Peter C Van Metre, U.S. Geological Survey, Austin, TX, United States
Fluvial sediment is a major factor in aquatic habitat degradation. Understanding the sources of this sediment is a necessary component of management plans and policies aimed at reducing sediment inputs. Because of the time intensive framework of most sediment-source studies, spatial interpretations are often limited to the study watershed. To address sediment sources on a larger scale, the U.S. Geological Survey- National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program as part of the Midwest Stream Quality Assessment, used fallout radioisotopes (excess lead-210, cesium-137, and beryllium-7) to determine the source ((upland (surface runoff) or channel derived)) of fine-grained (<0.063 mm) bed sediment in the Cornbelt Ecoregion. The study area encompassed parts of 11 states in the Midwestern United States covering 648,239 km2 of the United States. Sampling occurred in July and August of 2013, in conjunction with water chemistry, aquatic-habitat and ecological community assessments. Ninety-nine watersheds were sampled, the majority of which were predominately agricultural, with contributing areas ranging between 6.7 to 5,893 km2. Using the ratio of beryllium-7 to excess lead-210, the percent of upland to channel-derived sediment was estimated. Results indicate that sediment sources vary among the 99 watersheds. Channel sediment is an important source presumably from bank erosion.  Upland sediment was not the dominant source of sediment in many of these agricultural watersheds.  Suspended-sediment samples collected over an 8-week period for 3 watersheds also show that the percent of upland versus channel sediment varies spatially and temporally.