Historic long-term P application to sandy soils in NW-Europe has resulted in abundant sorption, saturation and eventually leaching of P from soil to the groundwater. Although many studies recognize the control of site-specific factors like soil texture and phosphate saturation degree (PSD), the regional-scaled relevance of effects exerted by single factors controlling P leaching is unclear. Very large observational datasets of soil and groundwater P content are furthermore required to reveal indirect controls of soil traits through mediating soil variables. We explored co-variation of phreatic groundwater orthophosphate (o-P) concentration and soil factors in sandy soils in Flanders, Belgium. Correlation analyses were complemented with an exploratory model derived using ‘path analysis’. Data of oxalate-extractable Al, Fe, P and pHKCl, phosphate sorption capacity (PSC) and PSD in three depth layers (0–30, 30–60, 60–90 cm), topsoil SOC, % clay and groundwater depth (fluctuation) were interpolated to predict soil properties on exact locations of a very extensive net of groundwater monitoring wells. The mean PSD was only poorly correlated to groundwater o-P concentration, indicating the overriding control of other factors in the transport of P to the groundwater. A significant (P < 0.01) positive non-linear relationship was found between groundwater o-P concentrations and pHKCl for all depth layers. Likewise, lower SOC% (P < 0.01) and shallower groundwater level (MHL or MLL) corresponded (P < 0.01) with higher o-P concentrations. Groundwater o-P unexpectedly correlated positively to clay% and path analysis indicated this to be an indirect effect of the groundwater level. Path analysis furthermore indicated an important indirect control of pH on groundwater o-P concentrations and a considerable direct effect of Pox, 0-90, Alox, 0-90 and MHL. The fact that groundwater o-P concentration was stronger controlled by soil pH and groundwater table depth than by PSD indicates the likely oversimplification of the latter index to measure the long-term potential risk of P leaching. Accounting for controls on leaching not included in PSD via an alternative index, however, seems problematic as in Flanders for example groundwater o-P turned out to be higher in finer textured soils or soils with higher pedogenic Fe content, probably because of their lower pedogenic Al content and higher soil pH. Path analysis of extensive soil and groundwater datasets seems a viable way to identify prime local determinants of soil P leaching and could be further on used for ‘ground-truthing’ more complex P-migration simulation models.
Journal of Environmental Management – Elsevier
Published: Dec 1, 2017
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