Phosphorus speciation in stream bed sediments from an agricultural watershed: Solid-phase associations and sorption behavior

Michael L. Machesky, Thomas R. Holm, James A. Slowikowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The sorption behavior and solid-phase associations of phosphorus (P) in fine-grained sediments (<63 μm) from two upstream tributaries and one downstream main stem site of the Spoon River in west-central Illinois were characterized to better understand phosphorus bioavailability in this agriculturally dominated watershed. The P sorption affinities, as indicated by linear distribution coefficients (Kd), of all sediments were 330-5,150 L/kg, and negatively correlated with equilibrium phosphorus concentration (EPCo) values, which ranged between 0.2 and 2.2 μM. pH values measured at the conclusion of the sorption experiments varied only slightly (7.45-8.10) but were nonetheless strongly positively correlated to EPCo values, and negatively correlated to Kd values, suggesting the importance of pH to the observed sorption behavior. Kd values were generally lower and EPCo values higher at the main stem site than at the upstream tributary sites, suggesting dissolved reactive P (DRP) bioavailability (specifically orthophosphate) increased downstream. The solid phase associations of P were operationally assessed with the streamlined SEDEX (sedimentary extraction) procedure, and most sediment P (≥50%) was released during the step designed to determine iron oxide-associated P. On average, 70-90% of the total sediment P pool was potentially bioavailable, as estimated by the sum of the iron oxide-, authigenic carbonate-, and organic-associated P fractions. Considerable calcium was also extracted from some sediments during the step designed to specifically remove iron oxide-associated P. It is hypothesized that the severe drought conditions that persisted between April and October, 2005 allowed authigenic carbonates (perhaps partly amorphous) to accumulate, and that these carbonates dissolved during the iron oxide extraction step. The extensive benthic algal populations also present may have aided carbonate precipitation, which under more normal hydrologic conditions would be periodically flushed downstream and replaced by fresh sediment. This suggests antecedent hydrologic conditions played a dominant role in the P sorption and solid phase associations identified.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)639-662
Number of pages24
JournalAquatic Geochemistry
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Equilibrium phosphorus concentration
  • Phosphorus
  • Sequential extraction
  • Sorption

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


Dive into the research topics of 'Phosphorus speciation in stream bed sediments from an agricultural watershed: Solid-phase associations and sorption behavior'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this