Fine sediment sources were characterized by chemical composition in an urban watershed, the Northeast Branch Anacostia River, which drains to the Chesapeake Bay. Concentrations of 63 elements and two radionuclides were measured in possible land-based sediment sources and suspended sediment collected from the water column at the watershed outlet during storm events. These tracer concentrations were used to determine the relative quantity of suspended sediment contributed by each source. Although this is an urbanized watershed, there was not a distinct urban signature that can be evaluated except for the contributions from road surfaces. We identified the sources of fine sediment by both physiographic province (Piedmont and Coastal Plain) and source locale (streambanks, upland and street residue) by using different sets of elemental tracers. The Piedmont contributed the majority of the fine sediment for seven of the eight measured storms. The streambanks contributed the greatest quantity of fine sediment when evaluated by source locale. Street residue contributed 13% of the total suspended sediment on average and was the source most concentrated in anthropogenically enriched elements. Combining results from the source locale and physiographic province analyses, most fine sediment in the Northeast Branch watershed is derived from streambanks that contain sediment eroded from the Piedmont physiographic province of the watershed. Sediment fingerprinting analyses are most useful when longer term evaluations of sediment erosion and storage are also available from streambank-erosion measurements, sediment budget and other methods.
Additional publication details
Suspended-sediment sources in an urban watershed, Northeast Branch Anacostia River, Maryland