Natural Resources Research Articles

The influence of particle size and mineralogy on both phosphorus retention and release by streambed sediments

Document Type


Publication Date


Journal Title

Journal of Soils and Sediments


Print: 1439-0108 Electronic: 1614-7480


Lateritic, Particle size, Phosphorus, Sediment, Surface area


Fresh Water Studies | Natural Resources Management and Policy | Soil Science | Water Resource Management



In many streams worldwide including those on the south coast of Western Australia (WA), sediments of the > 2-mm fraction often contribute up to 50% of the streambed. However, most analysis and interpretation of sediment chemistry, including phosphorus (P), is conducted on the < 2-mm fraction as this fraction is considered the most chemically reactive. This paper aims to identify the contribution of the > 2-mm fraction to P retention and release in sandy-gravely streams.

Material and methods

Sediment samples were collected from streams in agricultural catchments, and P retention and release by the < 2-mm and > 2-mm (typically lateritic; iron rich) sediment fractions were examined using fluvarium and batch experiments. Phosphorus sorbed by sediment was estimated on a mass (mg P kg−1) and area basis (mg P m−2).

Results and discussion

Phosphorus sorption measurements suggested that mineralogy as well as particle size were important factors influencing P retention by stream sediments. Stream sediments retained approximately 30% of added P. In a desorption phase, approximately 8% of the retained P was released into stream water.


Stream sediments in south western WA appear to be net immobilisers of P, retaining more P than they release, dependent on the stream P concentration. Exclusion of the > 2-mm fraction when determining stream sediment P dynamics may therefore underestimate whole stream sediment P retention and release.



Digital Object Identifier (DOI)