Coupling hysteresis analysis with sediment and hydrological connectivity in three agricultural catchments in Navarre, Spain

Saskia D. Keesstra*, Jason Davis, Rens Hein Masselink, Javier Casalí, Edwin T.H.M. Peeters, Roel Dijksma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: Rain storm events mobilise large proportions of fine sediments in catchment systems. Sediments from agricultural catchments are often adsorbed by nutrients, heavy metals and other (in)organic pollutants that may impact downstream environments. To mitigate erosion, sediment transport and associated pollutant transport, it is crucial to know the origin of the sediment that is found in the drainage system, and therefore, it is important to understand catchment sediment dynamics throughout the continuity of runoff events. Materials and methods: To assess the impact of the state of a catchment on the transport of fine suspended sediment to catchment outlets, an algorithm has been developed which classifies rain storm events into simple (clockwise, counter-clockwise) and compound (figure-of-eight; complex) events. This algorithm is the first tool that uses all available discharge and suspended sediment data and analyses these data automatically. A total of 797 runoff events from three experimental watersheds in Navarre (Spain) were analysed with the help of long-term, high-resolution discharge and sediment data that was collected between 2000 and 2014. Results and discussion: Morphological complexity and in-stream vegetation structures acted as disconnecting landscape features which caused storage of sediment along the transport cascade. The occurrence of sediment storage along transport paths was therefore responsible for clockwise hysteresis due to the availability of in-stream sediment which could cause the “first flush” affect. Conversely, the catchment with steeper channel gradients and a lower stream density showed much more counter-clockwise hysteresis due to better downstream and lateral surface hydrological connectivity. In this research, hydrological connectivity is defined as the actual and potential transfer paths in a catchment. The classification of event SSC-Q hysteresis provided a seasonal benchmark value to which catchment managers can compare runoff events in order to understand the origin and locations of suspended sediment in the catchment. Conclusions: A new algorithm uses all available discharge and suspended sediment data to assess catchment sediment dynamics. From these analyses, the catchment connectivity can be assessed which is useful to develop catchment land management.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1598-1612
JournalJournal of Soils and Sediments
Issue number3
Early online date4 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019


  • Headwater catchment
  • Hydrological event
  • Hysteresis
  • Sediment connectivity
  • Sediment dynamics


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