Modelling soil phosphorus decline: Expectations of Water Framework Directive policies

R. P. O. Schulte, A. R. Melland, O. Fenton, M. Herlihy, K. Richards, P. Jordan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

103 Citations (Scopus)


Depletion of plant-available soil phosphorus (P) from excessive to agronomically optimum levels is a measure being implemented in Ireland to reduce the risk of diffuse P transfer from land to water. Within the Nitrates and Water Framework Directive regulations the policy tool is designed to help achieve good status by 2015 in water bodies at risk from eutrophication. To guide expectation, this study used soil plot data from eight common soil associations to develop a model of Soil Test P (STP) (Morgan's extract) decline following periods of zero P amendment. This was used to predict the time required to move from excessive (Index 4) to the upper boundary of the optimum (Index 3) soil P concentration range. The relative P balance (P balance : Total soil P) best described an exponential decline (R-2 = 63%) of STP according to a backwards step-wise regression of a range of soil parameters. Using annual field P balance scenarios (-30 kg P ha(-1), -15 kg P ha(-1), -7 kg P ha(-1)), average time to the optimum soil P boundary condition was estimated from a range of realistic Total P and STP starting points. For worst case scenarios of high Total P and STP starting points, average time to the boundary was estimated at 7-15 years depending on the field P balance. However, uncertainty analysis of the regression parameter showed that variation can be from 3 to >20 years. Combined with variation in how soil P source changes translate to resulting P delivery to water bodies, water policy regulators are advised to note this inherent uncertainty from P source to receptor with regard to expectations of Water Framework Directive water quality targets and deadlines. (C) 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)472-484
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Oct 2010


  • Soil
  • Phosphorus
  • Water Framework Directive


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