Differentiating Sediment Sources Using Sediment Fingerprinting Techniques, in the Sprague River Basin, South-Central Oregon

Open-File Report 2019-1120
Prepared in cooperation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
By: , and 



Identifying sources of sediment to streams in the Sprague River Basin, in south-central Oregon, is important for restoration efforts that are focused on reducing sediment erosion and transport. Reducing sediment loads in these streams also contributes to compliance with the total maximum daily load reduction requirements for total phosphorus in this basin. In the Sprague River Basin, phosphorus occurs in surface waters in both dissolved phase and particulate phase, and particulate phosphorus is readily transported in streams on fine-grained suspended sediments, which eventually deposit in Upper Klamath Lake. The lake has seasonal blooms of cyanobacteria that require phosphorus for growth and degrade water-quality conditions, violating State water-quality standards and creating conditions that are stressful to two endangered suckers that reside in the lake. Identifying sources of sediment to the Sprague River could help inform restoration actions by determining the principal locations in the basin contributing fine sediment to the river. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, conducted a proof-of-concept study to determine if sediment fingerprinting can differentiate sources of bank erosion by source material, basin, river reach, and soil horizon. The sediment fingerprinting approach uses properties of streambank and streambed sediment to differentiate between multiple sediment sources by determining a composite signature, or fingerprint. The composite fingerprint is established by combining fingerprint properties from laboratory results of elemental analysis, stable isotopes, and total carbon and nitrogen. The methods for differentiating sediment samples for this study include grouping bank and bed samples by basin, river reach, and soil horizon, and using non-parametric statistics to determine which fingerprint properties could be used to differentiate the sample groups. Results indicate that fingerprint properties differentiated source material, river reach, and basin, and were more successful at differentiating samples grouped by geographic location (basin and reach) compared to source material. Source material (banks, bed, levees) were differentiated with three fingerprint properties—Antimony (Sb), copper (Cu), and manganese (Mn). The basin category (South Fork and main-stem Sprague River) differentiated the South Fork and main stem with stable nitrogen isotopes (δ15N), aluminum (Al), silicon (Si), and vanadium (V). Specific river reaches within the study area were differentiated with 11 different fingerprint properties. These results can be used for apportionment studies using suspended sediment samples and mixing models to determine sediment source contributions within the basin.

Suggested Citation

Schenk, L.N., Harden, T.M., and Kelson, J.K., 2019, Differentiating sediment sources using sediment fingerprinting techniques, in the Sprague River Basin, south-central Oregon: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2019-1120, 25 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/ofr20191120.

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Study Area
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Future Sprague River Sediment Fingerprinting Studies
  • Acknowledgments
  • References Cited
  • Appendix 1. Analytical Results and Site Characteristics
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Differentiating sediment sources using sediment fingerprinting techniques, in the Sprague River Basin, South-Central Oregon
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2019-1120
DOI 10.3133/ofr20191120
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Oregon Water Science Center
Description Report: vi, 25 p.; 2 Tables; Appendix
Country United States
State Oregon
Other Geospatial Sprague River Basin
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details