Considerations on the influence of extreme events on the phosphorus transport from river catchments to the sea

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Water Science & Technology Vol 51 No 11 pp 193–204 © IWA Publishing 2005M. Zessner*, C. Postolache**, A. Clement***, A. Kovacs**** and P. Strauss******Institute for Water Quality and Waste Management, Vienna University of Technology, Karlsplatz 13, A – 1040 Wien, Austria, (E-mail:
**Department of System Ecology, University of Bucharest
***Department of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering, Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Hungary
****Department of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering, Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Hungary
*****Institutes for Land and Water Management, Petzenkirchen, Austria
In this paper, results from rivers of different sizes in Romania, Hungary and Austria are presented. The paper shows the dynamics of extreme events and their contribution to the total P and suspended solids transported in these rivers. Special attention is paid to the influence of the size of the catchment and the event probability on the relative contribution of a single event to the total loads transported in the river. Further, the development of phosphorus loads along the Danube River at a flood event is shown. From the results it can be concluded that there is no immediate influence of high flow and flood events in upstream parts of the Basin on the transport of phosphorus from the catchment to the receiving Sea. Particle-bound phosphorus is mobilised from the catchment (through erosion) and the river bottom to a high extent at high flow events and transported at peak discharges to downstream, where retention by sedimentation of particles takes place. On the one hand this retention is a transport to flooded areas. In this case it can be considered as more or less long term retention. On the other hand sedimentation takes place in the riverbed, in case the tractive effort of the river is reduced. In this second case the P-pool in the sediments of the sedimentation area will be increased. If anaerobic conditions in the sediment appear, part of the phosphorus will be transformed to soluble ortho-phosphate and will continuously contribute to the phosphorus transport to the receiving sea. Part of the P-retained in the river sediment will be mobilised by resuspension at the next biggest high flow event. Altogether, these alternating processes of suspension, transport, export to flooded areas or sedimentation in the river bed with partly solution and partly resuspension at the next event decrease the share of the phosphorus transport during high flow events on the total loads transported in the more downstream parts of a catchments as compared to the more upstream parts. In the year of occurrence of an extreme flood event the P-transport of this year is dominated by the flood event. As an average over many years the contribution of high flow events to the total P-transport still may be between 7 and 20% in smaller catchments (around 1,000 km2). In a big catchment (e.g. river Danube) much smaller contributions of flood events on the total P-transport can be expected as an average over many years. Keywords Erosion; Danube river basin; floods; phosphorus load; suspended solids.
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