Spatial variability of soil phosphorus in relation to the topographic index and critical source areas: sampling for assessing risk to water quality

J Environ Qual. 2005 Nov 7;34(6):2263-77. doi: 10.2134/jeq2004.0398. Print 2005 Nov-Dec.


A measure of soil P status in agricultural soils is generally required for assisting with prediction of potential P loss from agricultural catchments and assessing risk for water quality. The objectives of this paper are twofold: (i) investigating the soil P status, distribution, and variability, both spatially and with soil depth, of two different first-order catchments; and (ii) determining variation in soil P concentration in relation to catchment topography (quantified as the "topographic index") and critical source areas (CSAs). The soil P measurements showed large spatial variability, not only between fields and land uses, but also within individual fields and in part was thought to be strongly influenced by areas where cattle tended to congregate and areas where manure was most commonly spread. Topographic index alone was not related to the distribution of soil P, and does not seem to provide an adequate indicator for CSAs in the study catchments. However, CSAs may be used in conjunction with soil P data for help in determining a more "effective" catchment soil P status. The difficulties in defining CSAs a priori, particularly for modeling and prediction purposes, however, suggest that other more "integrated" measures of catchment soil P status, such as baseflow P concentrations or streambed sediment P concentrations, might be more useful. Since observed soil P distribution is variable and is also difficult to relate to nationally available soil P data, any assessment of soil P status for determining risk of P loss is uncertain and problematic, given other catchment physicochemical characteristics and the sampling strategy employed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Databases, Factual
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Phosphorus / analysis*
  • Phosphorus / metabolism
  • Risk Factors
  • Soil Pollutants / metabolism
  • Soil*
  • United Kingdom
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / metabolism
  • Water Supply*


  • Soil
  • Soil Pollutants
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Phosphorus