Documenting catchment suspended sediment sources: problems, approaches and prospects
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Establishing catchment suspended sediment sources is fraught with difficulty. Data collection comprises indirect and direct approaches and an overview is provided. The indirect approach uses a range of techniques to measure or evaluate sediment mobilization. Yet, although recent technological advances in surveying, remote sensing and photogrammetry provide improved resolution of temporal and spatial patterns of catchment erosion, these procedures take no account of source–river connectivity and the uncertainties associated with sediment routing. It is therefore only possible to infer the provenance of suspended sediment loads on the exclusive basis of on-site erosion data for different portions of the upstream catchment unless supportive information on sediment delivery is readily available. In contrast, the direct approach attempts to link sediment sources and flux using alternative means and therefore avoids the need for complementary information. Sediment fingerprinting best represents the direct approach to sediment sourcing and there remains substantial scope for exploiting the potential of this technique. The spatial complexity of sediment mobilization and transfer at the catchment scale necessitates a distributed approach to modelling. Recent developments in computer power and programming techniques are proving useful in this respect, but assembling the input and validation data required by distributed models continues to pose problems and it is frequently difficult to apportion the relative contributions from individual sediment sources. General prospects for future developments are discussed. Key words: catchment suspended sediment sources, direct approach, indirect approach, modelling, sediment fingerprinting.
Progress in Physical Geography