The University of Sheffield
Catchment Science Centre

Geomorphologic control on pollutant retardation at the groundwater–surface water interface.

Smith JWN & Lerner DN, 2008. Hydrological Processes, DOI:10.1002/hyp.7078


The results of research on the pollutant retardation potential of permeable riverbed sediments in catchments with significant groundwater–surface water (GW-SW) interaction are presented. The fraction of organic carbon and cation exchange capacity of fluvial sediments in various geomorphologic environments have been quantified. Sediments in selected reaches of the rivers Tern and Leith (UK), from the underlying Permian sandstone aquifers, and from along the length of the rivers Severn and Eden into which the Tern and Leith discharge have been investigated. Statistical analyses show significant variation in the geochemistry and pollutant retardation potential of sediments from different geomorphologic features, and between upland and lowland rivers. The sorption potential of fine-grained sediments deposited in pools was greater than sand in runs and coarser deposits in riffles. Similarly, sediments in lowland rivers were found to have a greater retardation potential than those in upland rivers. There was generally greater retardation potential in fluvial sediments of all types than in the underlying aquifers, and in lowland rivers the fluvial sediment retardation potential greatly dominated that of the aquifer. The findings demonstrate the potential for pollutant retardation processes in riverbed sediments of sandstone catchments, and suggest that consideration of retardation processes at the groundwater–surface water interface should be included into environmental risk-assessment studies, in order to better assess and manage the effects of contaminated groundwater discharges to rivers, particularly in lowland catchments.