Forensics in water quality investigations: isotopic multi-tracer approaches. Proceedings of a CSIRO OCE Cutting Edge Science Symposium 5-8 March 2012, Canberra, Australia

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Verburg, Kirsten; Kendall, Carol

Verburg, Kirsten; Kendall, Carol



66 p

CSIRO's Cutting Edge Science Symposium Series aims to enhance the understanding of key challenges and developments at scientific frontiers, to share perspectives of world leaders, and to facilitate national and international collaboration. This Symposium on 'Forensics in water quality investigations: Isotopic multi-tracer approaches' brought together national and international scientists who work on tracer approaches to investigate catchment water quality. These methods can provide evidence of the sources and fate of nutrients and sediments in catchments and receiving water bodies, which can then be used to design effective remediation strategies. The symposium presentations related to both nutrient and sediment tracers in a range of applications and environments, with the participants sharing a wide variety of findings as well as raising outstanding issues. These included demonstrations of the value of the various tracers, opportunities provided by multi-tracer approaches, technical aspects of data analysis and interpretation, and experiences relating to informing water quality management. The presentations were accompanied by lively discussions, including a final discussion focussing on lessons learned and future challenges and directions for both research and application. This report provides a glimpse of these presentations and discussions, with references provided for further reading. Collectively the symposium proceedings clearly demonstrate the potential value that isotopic multi-tracer approaches can have in informing water quality management. For some management questions the applications of tracers are relatively straight forward, whereas for others the applications are still very much in the research domain. Selecting and judging the suite of tools required to build a robust case is typically a task that is performed by individual scientists, based on their own experiences. The symposium concluded that adoption (of methodology or the resulting evidence) by managers and policy makers may benefit from a better defined (whole of field) 'science approach'. Other points raised in the discussions included: • 'Piggybacking' on water quality monitoring programs or other projects can potentially provide exciting opportunities. Archiving of (extra) samples should be adopted where possible for use with future research questions, new analysis techniques or additional funding. • Data sharing should be encouraged more. Making data available through archives and data portals could be significantly improved. • A collaborative tool box project that summarises the various tools and analyses and their strengths and suitability for different applications would be a valuable exercise to assist the whole of field 'science approach' and facilitate education and awareness of isotopic tracer techniques. • Understanding of catchment hydrology and surface - groundwater interactions is usually critical for a successful interpretation of nutrient tracer data. It also affects the choice of suitable end-members and determines the pathway residence times. A range of tracing and age-dating techniques are available and could be used more widely in interdisciplinary studies. Areas of future research needs identified include the use of isotopic techniques to improve the understanding of attenuation processes, characterisation of suitable end-members in a wider range of land use and land management systems, description of isotopic changes occurring in the vadose zone, statistical analysis of data, modelling of isotope fractionation in catchment and receiving water models as well as vadose zone models, and further development work on nitrogen isotopes of ammonia and dissolved organic nitrogen, use of oxygen isotopes of phosphate, compound specific analysis of organic matter, as well as carbon isotopes in dissolved inorganic and organic carbon. The multi-disciplinary nature of the symposium was a highlight that many of the symposium participants ...


Canberra, A.C.T.

catchment; sediment; nutrient; nitrogen; phosphorus; compound specific isotopes; nitrate; water quality; tracer; isotope

Environmental Monitoring; Environmental Sciences not elsewhere classified

Published Version (pdf) (610KB)

This report has been placed on the CSIRO repository and may be made available to persons outside of CSIRO for non commercial purposes, in its entirety and without deletion of disclaimers and copyright information.

CSIRO Water for a Healthy Country Flagship Report Series


Technical Report (Author)



Verburg, Kirsten; Kendall, Carol. Forensics in water quality investigations: isotopic multi-tracer approaches. Proceedings of a CSIRO OCE Cutting Edge Science Symposium 5-8 March 2012, Canberra, Australia. Canberra, A.C.T.: CSIRO; 2013. csiro:EP133707.

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