Quantifying seasonal export and retention of nutrients in West European lowland rivers at catchment scale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)


To set accurate critical values for the protection of lakes and coastal areas, it is crucial to know the seasonal variation of nutrient exports from rivers. This article presents an improved method for estimating export and in-stream nutrient retention and its seasonal variation. For 13 lowland river catchments in Western Europe, inputs to surface water and exports were calculated on a monthly basis. The catchments varied in size (21 to 486 km2), while annual in-stream retention ranged from 23 to 84% for N and 39 to 72% for P. A novel calculation method is presented that quantifies monthly exports from lowland rivers based on an annual load to the river system. Inputs in the calculation are annual emission to the surface waters, average monthly river discharge, average monthly water temperature and fraction of surface water area in the catchment. The method accounts for both seasonal variation of emission to the surface water and seasonal in-stream retention. The agreement between calculated values and calibration data was high (N: r2 = 0·93; p <0·001 and P: r2 = 0·81; p <0·001). Validation of the model also showed good results with model efficiencies for the separate catchments ranging from 31 to 95% (average 76%). This indicates that exports of nitrogen and phosphorus on a monthly basis can be calculated with few input data for a range of West European lowland rivers. Further analysis showed that retention in summer is higher than that in winter, resulting in lower summer nutrient concentrations than that calculated with an average annual input. This implies that accurate evaluation of critical thresholds for eutrophication effects must account for seasonal variation in hydrology and nutrient loading. Our quantification method thus may improve the modelling of eutrophication effects in standing waters.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2102-2111
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • denitrification rates
  • nitrogen-retention
  • phosphorus
  • streams
  • system
  • dynamics
  • sediment
  • nitrate
  • losses
  • model


Dive into the research topics of 'Quantifying seasonal export and retention of nutrients in West European lowland rivers at catchment scale'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this