Sediment source fingerprinting: benchmarking recent outputs, remaining challenges and emerging themes

Adrian L Collins, Martin Blackwell, Pascal Boeckx, Charlotte-Anne Chivers, Monica Emelko, Olivier Evrard, Ian Foster, Allen Gellis, Hamid Gholami, Steve Granger, Paul Harris, Arthur J. Horowitz, J. Patrick Laceby, Nuria Martinez-Carreras, Jean Minella, Lisa Mol, Kazem Nosrati, Simon Pulley, Uldis Silins, Yuri Jacques da SilvaMicheal Stone, Tales Tiecher, Hari Ram Upadhayay, Yusheng Zhang

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


Abstract: Purpose: This review of sediment source fingerprinting assesses the current state-of-the-art, remaining challenges and emerging themes. It combines inputs from international scientists either with track records in the approach or with expertise relevant to progressing the science. Methods: Web of Science and Google Scholar were used to review published papers spanning the period 2013–2019, inclusive, to confirm publication trends in quantities of papers by study area country and the types of tracers used. The most recent (2018–2019, inclusive) papers were also benchmarked using a methodological decision-tree published in 2017. Scope: Areas requiring further research and international consensus on methodological detail are reviewed, and these comprise spatial variability in tracers and corresponding sampling implications for end-members, temporal variability in tracers and sampling implications for end-members and target sediment, tracer conservation and knowledge-based pre-selection, the physico-chemical basis for source discrimination and dissemination of fingerprinting results to stakeholders. Emerging themes are also discussed: novel tracers, concentration-dependence for biomarkers, combining sediment fingerprinting and age-dating, applications to sediment-bound pollutants, incorporation of supportive spatial information to augment discrimination and modelling, aeolian sediment source fingerprinting, integration with process-based models and development of open-access software tools for data processing. Conclusions: The popularity of sediment source fingerprinting continues on an upward trend globally, but with this growth comes issues surrounding lack of standardisation and procedural diversity. Nonetheless, the last 2 years have also evidenced growing uptake of critical requirements for robust applications and this review is intended to signpost investigators, both old and new, towards these benchmarks and remaining research challenges for, and emerging options for different applications of, the fingerprinting approach.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4160-4193
Number of pages34
JournalJournal of Soils and Sediments
Issue number12
Early online date16 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - 16 Sept 2020

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) 2020.


  • Biomarkers
  • Fingerprinting approach
  • Sediment-age dating
  • Tracers
  • Weathering indices
  • Advances in Sediment Science and Management


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