Recent technological breakthroughs of optical sensors and analysers have enabled matching the water quality measurement interval to the time scales of stream flow changes and led to an improved understanding of spatially and temporally heterogeneous sources and delivery pathways for many solutes and particulates. This new ability to match the chemograph with the hydrograph has promoted renewed interest in the concentration-discharge (c-q) relationship and its value in characterizing catchment storage, time lags and legacy effects for both weathering products and anthropogenic pollutants. In this paper we evaluated the stream c-q relationships for a number of water quality determinands (phosphorus, suspended sediments, nitrogen) in intensively managed agricultural catchments based on both high-frequency (sub-hourly) and long-term low-frequency (fortnightly-monthly) routine monitoring data. We used resampled high-frequency data to test the uncertainty in water quality parameters (e.g. mean, 95th percentile and load) derived from low-frequency sub-datasets. We showed that the uncertainty in water quality parameters increases with reduced sampling frequency as a function of the c-q slope. We also showed that different sources and delivery pathways control c-q relationship for different solutes and particulates. Secondly, we evaluated the variation in c-q slopes derived from the long-term low-frequency data for different determinands and catchments and showed strong chemostatic behaviour for phosphorus and nitrogen due to saturation and agricultural legacy effects. The c-q slope analysis can provide an effective tool to evaluate the current monitoring networks and the effectiveness of water management interventions. This research highlights how improved understanding of solute and particulate dynamics obtained with optical sensors and analysers can be used to understand patterns in long-term water quality time series, reduce the uncertainty in the monitoring data and to manage eutrophication in agricultural catchments.
- Concentration-discharge relationship
- Chemostatic behaviour
- High-frequency monitoring
- Long-term water quality time series
- Phosphorus and nitrogen