08 Sep 2023
 | 08 Sep 2023
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

Sensitivity of source sediment fingerprinting modelling to tracer selection methods

Thomas Chalaux-Clergue, Rémi Bizeul, Pedro V. G. Batista, Nuria Martinez-Carreras, J. Patrick Laceby, and Olivier Evrard

Abstract. In a context of accelerated soil erosion and sediment supply to water bodies, sediment fingerprinting techniques have received an increasing interest in the last two decades. The selection of tracers is a particularly critical step for the subsequent accurate prediction of sediment source contributions. To select tracers, the most conventional approach is the so-called three-step method, although, more recently, the consensus method has also been proposed as an alternative. The outputs of these two approaches were compared in terms of identification of conservative properties, tracer selection, contribution modelling tendency and performance on a single dataset. As for the tree-step method, several range test criteria were compared, along with the impact of the discriminant function analysis (DFA).

The dataset was composed of tracing properties analysed in soil (through the consideration of three potential sources; n = 56) and sediment core samples (n = 32). Soil and sediment samples were sieved to 63 µm and analysed for organic matter, elemental geochemistry and diffuse visible spectrometry. Virtual mixtures (n = 138) with known source proportions were generated in order to assess model accuracy of each tracer selection method. The Bayesian un-mixing model MixSIAR was used to predict source contributions on virtual mixtures and actual sediments.

The different methods tested in the current research can be distributed into three groups according to their more or less restrictive identification of conservative properties, which were found to be associated with different sediment source contribution tendencies. The less restrictive selections of tracers were associated with a dominant and constant contribution of forests to sediment, whereas the most restrictive selections were associated with dominant and constant contributions of cropland to sediment. In contrast, intermediately restrictive selection of tracers led to more balanced contributions of both cropland and forest to sediment production. Virtual mixtures allowed to compute several evaluation metrics, which supported a better understanding of each tracer selection modelling accuracy. However, strong divergences were observed between the predicted contributions of virtual mixtures and the predicted sediment source contributions. These divergences may likely be attributed to the occurrence of a non-(fully) conservative behaviour of potential tracing properties during erosion, transport and deposition processes, which could not be reproduced when generated the virtual mixtures.

Among the compared tracer selection methods, the three-step method using the mean ± SD and hinge range test criteria provided the most reliable tracer selection methods. In the future, it would be fundamental to generate more reliable metrics to assess conservativeness, to support more reliable modelling and more realistic virtual mixture generation to correctly evaluate modelling accuracy. These improvements may contribute to trustworthy sediment fingerprinting techniques for supporting efficient soil conservation and watershed management.

Thomas Chalaux-Clergue et al.

Status: open (until 20 Oct 2023)

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Thomas Chalaux-Clergue et al.

Thomas Chalaux-Clergue et al.


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Short summary
Sediment source fingerprinting is a relevant tool to support soil conservation and watershed management in the context of accelerated soil erosion. To quantify sediment source contribution, it requires the selection of relevant tracers among the analysed properties. We compared the most conventional method, so-called three-step method, and the newly proposed consensus method. These methods resulted in very contrasted contribution trends, highlighting the importance of conservativity assessment.