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This article in SSSAJ

  1. Vol. 51 No. 6, p. 1600-1604
    Received: Dec 22, 1986

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Phosphorus Redistribution from Cultivated Fields into Riparian Areas1

  1. J. R. Cooper and
  2. J. W. Gilliam2



The accumulation of P in sediments deposited within riparian areas was measured to study the role of these areas as P sinks. The sediments originated from the cultivated fields and forests of the uplands and were deposited during the last 20 to 25 years. The riparian areas were studied in the Atlantic Coastal Plain and consisted of four field-forest edges, four ephemeral streams and four flood plains of intermittent streams that flowed into a flood plain swamp. Selective sorting and deposition of sand and silt near the field-forest edge (0–20 m) and clay deposition downstream (1–4 km) on the flood plains and swamps explained much of the total P distribution in the riparian areas. The P in the sediments increased with percent clay, R2 = 0.80. Laboratory measurements of the equilibrium phosphorus concentration (EPC) in flood plain swamp sediments were two to three times higher than P concentrations in the overlying water (1.0 vs. 0.4 µmol P L−1) during high flow stages of winter and spring. During summer and fall the ortho-P concentrations of isolated pools and base flow ranged from 1.0 to 1.3 µmol P L−1. Approximately 260 kmol of P were deposited in the riparian areas of the 1850 ha watershed during the past 20 to 25 years. The amount of P deposited was equal to the amount estimated to have been removed from the watershed in the drainage water. Thus about 50% of the P leaving agricultural fields appeared to be removed from the runoff water in the riparian areas. Riparian areas between the field edge and a perennial stream were sinks for P because of the continual deposition of fresh sediment from upland areas.

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