Assessing sediment yield and sources using fingerprinting method in a representative catchment of the Loess Plateau, China

  • Peng Tian
  • Zhengfeng An
  • Guangju Zhao
  • Peng Gao
  • Pengfei Li
  • Wenyi Sun
  • Xingmin MuEmail author
Original Article


Quantitative assessment of sediment yield and sources is of great importance for future soil and water conservation and watershed management in erosion-prone areas. This study investigated sediment yield and sources by using a simple fingerprinting method in a dam-controlled watershed on the northern Loess Plateau. The sampling sediment profile exhibited 24 flood couplets corresponding to rainfall storms from 2001 to 2014. A total of 2.05 × 105 t sediment was trapped during the period. The annual sediment yield varied from 0 to 430 t ha−1 year−1, with an average annual sediment yield of 146.1 t ha−1 year−1. Ten sediment properties (i.e., σ13C, σ15N, TOC, TN, C/N, Xlf, Xhf, Xfd, 137Cs, 210Pb) were potentially selected to identify the sediment sources. The multivariate discriminant function analysis (DFA) test suggested that three soil properties (Χhf, TN, and 137Cs) comprised the optimum composite fingerprinting. The results demonstrated that sandstone contributed nearly 90% of sediment in 2012 and 56.1% in 2003. The contribution from arable land varied from 5.2% in 2005 to 44.6% within the period of 2013–2014. On average, approximately 74.06% of sediment originated from the weathered sandstone, followed by 15.67% from arable land, and the remaining 10.27% from uncultivated land. Our finding indicated that bare sandstone was the main sediment source, leading to relatively high sediment yield in the study area. This study provides a method with great potential for sediment yields assessment and sediment source identification in ungauged watersheds on the Loess Plateau.


Check dam Fingerprinting method Sediment yield Sediment sources Loess Plateau 



The work was financially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 41671279), National Key Scientific Research Project (Grant No. 2016YFC0402401), the special program for Key Basic Research of the Ministry of Science and Technology (Grant No. 2014FY210100), the West Light foundation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XAB2017A03) and International Scientific and Technological Cooperation and Exchange Projects in Shaanxi Province (2017KW-043). We would like to express our great appreciation to the Hydrology Bureau of the Yellow River Water Resources Commission for providing valuable climatic and hydrological data, as well as to the reviewers for very valuable comments which greatly improved the quality of the paper.


  1. Bussi G, Rodriguez-Lloveras X, Frances F, Benito G, Sanchez-Moya Y, Sopena A (2013) Sediment yield model implementation based on check dam infill stratigraphy in a semiarid Mediterranean catchment. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 17:3339–3354CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Collins AL, Walling DE, Leeks GJL (1997) Sediment sources in the Upper Severn catchment: a fingerprinting approach. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci Dis 1:509–521CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Collins AL, Zhang Y, Walling DE, Grenfell SE, Smith P (2010) Tracing sediment loss from eroding farm tracks using a geochemical fingerprinting procedure combining local and genetic algorithm optimisation. Sci Total Environ 408:5461–5471CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Davis CM, Fox JF (2009) Sediment fingerprinting: review of the method and future improvements for allocating nonpoint source pollution. J Environ Eng 135:490–504CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. de Vente J, Poesen J, Bazzoffi P, Van Rompaey A, Verstraeten G (2006) Predicting catchment sediment yield in Mediterranean environments: the importance of sediment sources and connectivity in Italian drainage basins. Earth Surf Proc Land 31:1017–1034CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Fleskens L, Stringer LC (2014) Land management and policy responses to mitigate desertification and land degradation. Land Degrad Dev 25:1–4CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Foster IDL, Walling DE (1994) Using reservoir deposits to reconstruct changing sediment yields and sources in the catchment of the Old Mill Reservoir, South Devon, UK, over the past 50 years. Hydrolog Sci J 39:347–368CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Fox JF, Papanicolaou AN (2007) The use of carbon and nitrogen isotopes to study watershed erosion processes. J Am Water Resour Ass 43:1047–1064CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Fox JF, Papanicolaou AN (2008) Application of the spatial distribution of nitrogen stable isotopes for sediment tracing at the watershed scale. J Hydrol 358:46–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Franz C, Makeschin F, Weiß H, Lorz C (2014) Sediments in urban river basins: identification of sediment sources within the Lago Paranoa catchment, Brasilia DF, Brazil – using the fingerprint approach. Sci Total Environ 466:513–523CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Grauso S, Fattoruso G, Crocetti C, Montanari A (2008) Estimating the suspended sediment yield in a river network by means of geomorphic parameters and regression relationships. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 12:177–191CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Guzmán G, Quinton JN, Nearing MA, Mabit L, Gómez JA (2013) Sediment tracers in water erosion studies: current approaches and challenges. J Soils Sediments 13(4):816–833CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hessel R (2006) Consequences of hyperconcentrated flow for process-based soil erosion modelling on the Chinese Loess Plateau. Earth Surf Proc Land 31:1100–1114CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Jiao JY, Wang ZJ, Zhao GJ, Wang WZ, Mu XM (2014) Changes in sediment discharge in a sediment-rich region of the Yellow River from 1955 to 2010: implications for further soil erosion control. J Arid Land CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Jin Z, Cui BL, Song Y, Shi WY, Wang KB, Wang Y, Liang J (2012) How many check dams do we need to build on the Loess Plateau? Environ Sci Technol 46:8527–8528CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kalembasa SJ, Jenkinson DS (1973) A comparative study of titrimetric and gravimetric methods for the determination of organic carbon in soil. J Sci Food Agric 24:1085–1090CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Koiter AJ, Owens PN, Petticrew EL, Lobb DA (2013) The behavioural characteristics of sediment properties and their implications for sediment fingerprinting as an approach for identifying sediment sources in river basins. Earth Sci Rev 125:24–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Laceby JP, Olley J (2014) An examination of geochemical modelling approaches to tracing sediment sources incorporating distribution mixing and elemental correlations. Hydrol Process 29:1669–1685CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Laceby JP, Evrard O, Smith HG, Blake WH, Olley JM, Minella JPG, Owens PN (2017) The challenges and opportunities of addressing particle size effects in sediment source fingerprinting: a review. Earth Sci Rev 169:85–103CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lamba J, Karthikeyan KG, Thompson AM (2015) Apportionment of suspended sediment sources in an agricultural watershed using sediment fingerprinting. Geoderma 239:25–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lasanta T, Vicente-Serrano SM (2012) Complex land cover change processes in semiarid Mediterranean regions: an approach using Landsat images in northeast Spain. Remote Sens Environ 124:1–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Li SL, Su CJ, Bai LX, Wu LP, Xu JY (1995) Using 226Ra to identify the sediment sources in a small watershed. Mt Res 13:199–202Google Scholar
  23. Mekonnen M, Keesstra S, Baartman J, Ritsema C, Melesse A (2015) Evaluating sediment storage dams: structural off-site sediment trapping measures in Northwest Ethiopia. Cuadernos de Investigacion Geografica 41:7–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Mukundan R, Radcliffe D, Ritchie J, Risse L, McKinley R (2010) Sediment fingerprinting to determine the source of suspended sediment in a southern Piedmont stream. J Environ Qual 39:1328–1337CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Navas A, Lopez-Vicente M, Gaspar L, Palazon L, Quijano L (2014) Establishing a tracer-based sediment budget to preserve wetlands in Mediterranean mountain agroecosystems (NE Spain). Sci Total Environ 496:132–143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Palazón L, Latorre B, Gaspar L, Blake WH, Smith HG, Navas A (2016) Combining catchment modelling and sediment fingerprinting to assess sediment dynamics in a Spanish Pyrenean river system. Sci Total Environ 569:1136–1148CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Pulley S, Rowntree K (2016) Stages in the life of a magnetic grain: sediment source discrimination, particle size effects and spatial variability in the South African Karoo. Geoderma 271:134–143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Romero-Díaz A, Alonso-Sarriá F, Martínez-Lloris M (2007) Erosion rates obtained from check-dam sedimentation (SE Spain). A multi-method comparison. Catena 71:172–178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Song Y, Hao QZ, Ge JY, Zhao DA, Zhang Y, Li Q, Zuo XX, Lu YW, Wang P (2012) Quantitative relationships between modern soil magnetic susceptibility and climatic variables of the Chinese Loess Plateau. Quat Sci 32:679–689 (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  30. Tian P, Zhao GJ, Mu XM, Wang F, Gao P, Mi ZJ (2013) Check dam identification using multisource data and their effects on streamflow and sediment load in a Chinese Loess Plateau catchment. J Appl Remote Sens 7(1):073697CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Van Rompaey A, Krasa J, Dostal T (2007) Modelling the impact of land cover changes in the Czech Republic on sediment delivery. Land Use Policy 24 073697Google Scholar
  32. Verstraeten G, Prosser IP (2008) Modelling the impact of land-use change and farm dam construction on hillslope sediment delivery to rivers at the regional scale. Geomorphology 98:199–212CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Walling DE (2005) Tracing suspended sediment sources in catchments and river systems. Sci Total Environ 344:159–184CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Walling DE (2013) The evolution of sediment source fingerprinting investigations in fluvial systems. J Soils Sediments 13:1658–1675CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Walling DE, Collins AL, Stroud RW (2008) Tracing suspended sediment and particulate phosphorus sources in catchments. J Hydrol 350:274–289CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Wang WZ, Jiao JY (1996) Rainfall and erosion sediment yeild in the Loess Plateau and sediment transportation in the Yellow River basin. Science Press, BeijingGoogle Scholar
  37. Wei YH, He Z, Li YJ, Jiao JY, Zhao GJ, Mu XM (2017) Sediment yield deduction from check-dams deposition in the weathered sandstone watershed on the North Loess Plateau, China. Land Degrad Dev 28:217–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Wilkinson SN, Hancock GJ, Bartley R, Hawdon AA, Keen RJ (2013) Using sediment tracing to assess processes and spatial patterns of erosion in grazed rangelands, Burdekin River basin, Australia. Agric Ecosyst Environ 180:90–102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Xu XZ, Zhang HW, Zhang OY (2004) Development of check-dam systems in gullies on the Loess Plateau, China. Environ Sci Policy 7:79–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Yue XL, Mu XM, Zhao GJ, Shao HB, Gao P (2014) Dynamic changes of sediment load in the middle reaches of the Yellow River basin, China and implications for eco-restoration. Ecol Eng 73:64–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Zhang XC, Liu BL (2016) Using multiple composite fingerprints to quantify fine sediment source contributions: a new direction. Geoderma 268:108–118. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Zhang XB, He XB, Wen AB, Walling DE, Feng MY, Zou X (2004) Sediment source identification by using 137Cs and 210Pb radionuclides in a small catchment of the Hilly Sichuan Basin, China. Chin Sci Bull 49:1953–1957Google Scholar
  43. Zhang XB, Walling DE, He XB, Long Y (2009) Use of landslide-dammed lake deposits and pollen tracing techniques to investigate the erosional response of a small drainage basin in the Loess Plateau, China, to land use change during the late 16th century. Catena 79:205–213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Zhang YJ, Qin FC, Yue YJ (2011) Sediment deposits and organic carbon storage trapped behind the check dams in the Xiheidai watershed. Jiangsu Agric Sci 39:581–583Google Scholar
  45. Zhang XC, Zhang GH, Liu BL, Liu B (2016) Using cesium-137 to quantify sediment source contribution and uncertainty in a small watershed. Catena 140:116–124CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Zhang YQ, Long Y, Li B, Xu SJ, Wang XL, Liao J (2017) Use of reservoir deposits to reconstruct the recent changes in sediment yields from a small granite catchment in the Yimeng Mountain region, China. Geomorphology 293:167–177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Zhao GJ, Klik A, Mu XM, Wang F, Gao P, Sun WY (2015) Sediment yield estimation in a small watershed on the northern Loess Plateau, China. Geomorphology 241:343–352CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Zhao G, Kondolf GM, Mu X, Han M, He Z, Rubin Z, Wang F, Gao P, Sun W (2017a) Sediment yield reduction associated with land use changes and check dams in a catchment of the Loess Plateau, China. Catena 148:126–137CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Zhao GJ, Mu XM, Han MW, An ZF, Gao P, Sun WY, Xu WL (2017b) Sediment yield and sources in dam-controlled watersheds on the northern Loess Plateau. Catena 149:110–119CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Zhao TY, Yang MY, Walling DE, Zhang FB, Zhang JQ (2017c) Using check dam deposits to investigate recent changes in sediment yield in the Loess Plateau, China. Glob Planet Change 152:88–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peng Tian
    • 1
  • Zhengfeng An
    • 2
  • Guangju Zhao
    • 2
    • 3
  • Peng Gao
    • 2
    • 3
  • Pengfei Li
    • 2
    • 3
  • Wenyi Sun
    • 2
    • 3
  • Xingmin Mu
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.College of Natural Resources and EnvironmentNorthwest A&F UniversityYanglingChina
  2. 2.State Key Laboratory of Soil Erosion and Dryland Farming on the Loess PlateauNorthwest A&F UniversityYanglingChina
  3. 3.Institute of Soil and Water ConservationChinese Academy of Sciences & Ministry of Water ResourcesYanglingChina

Personalised recommendations