Spectral fingerprinting: characterizing suspended sediment sources by the use of VNIR-SWIR spectral information

Arlena Brosinsky, Saskia Foerster, Karl Segl, José Andrés López-Tarazón, Gemma Piqué, Axel Bronstert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Materials and methods: Sediment samples from the following three different origins were collected in the Isábena catchment (445 km2) in the central Spanish Pyrenees: (1) soil samples from the main potential source areas, (2) stored fine sediment from the channel bed once each season in 2011 and (3) suspended sediment samples during four flood events in autumn 2011 and spring 2012 at the catchment outlet as well as at several subcatchment outlets. All samples were dried and measured for spectral properties in the laboratory using an ASD spectroradiometer. Colour parameters and physically based features (e.g. organic carbon, iron oxide and clay content) were calculated from the spectra. Principal component analyses (PCA) were applied to all three types of samples to determine natural clustering of samples, and a mixing model was applied to determine source contributions.

Purpose: Knowledge of sediment sources is a prerequisite for sustainable management practices and may furthermore improve our understanding of water and sediment fluxes. Investigations have shown that a number of characteristic soil properties can be used as “fingerprints” to trace back the sources of river sediments. Spectral properties have recently been successfully used as such characteristics in fingerprinting studies. Despite being less labour-intensive than geochemical analyses, for example, spectroscopy allows measurements of small amounts of sediment material (>60 mg), thus enabling inexpensive analyses even of intra-event variability. The focus of this study is on the examination of spectral properties of fluvial sediment samples to detect changes in source contributions, both between and within individual flood events.

Results and discussion: We found that fine sediment stored in the river bed seems to be mainly influenced by grain size and seasonal variability, while sampling location—and thus the effect of individual tributaries or subcatchments—seem to be of minor importance. Suspended sediment sources were found to vary between, as well as within, flood events; although badlands were always the major source. Forests and grasslands contributed little (<10 %), and other sources (not further determinable) contributed up to 40 %. The analyses further suggested that sediment sources differ among the subcatchments and that subcatchments comprising relatively large proportions of badlands contributed most to the four flood events analyzed.

Conclusions: Spectral fingerprints provide a rapid and cost-efficient alternative to conventional fingerprint properties. However, a combination of spectral and conventional fingerprint properties could potentially permit discrimination of a larger number of source types.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1965-1981
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Soils and Sediments
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Isábena river
  • Mixing models
  • Northeast Spain
  • Sediment fingerprinting
  • Spectroscopy
  • Suspended sediment


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