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Uncertainties in Assessing Annual Nitrate Loads and Concentration Indicators: Part 2. Deriving Sampling Frequency Charts in Brittany, France

Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan

Citation:  Transactions of the ASABE. 54(1): 93-104. (doi: 10.13031/2013.36263) @2011
Authors:   F. Birgand, C. Faucheux, G. Gruau, F. Moatar, M. Meybeck
Keywords:   Concentration indicators, Measurement uncertainty, Nitrate, Nutrient fluxes, Sampling frequency charts, Water quality, Watershed

In water quality monitoring programs, standard sampling frequency schemes tend to be applied throughout entire regions or states. Ideally, the common standard among monitoring stations ought not to be the sampling frequency but instead the level of uncertainty of the estimated water quality indicators. Until now, there was no obvious way of doing this. This article proposes, for the first time, guidelines to select appropriate sampling frequencies to harmonize the level of uncertainty in the case of yearly nitrate indicators for the regional river water quality monitoring network in Brittany, France. A database of 50 watershed-year datasets (nine watersheds of 4 to 252 km2 in size) was used for which high temporal resolution data (hourly and daily) were available for flow and nitrate concentrations. For each dataset, the uncertainty levels were calculated by numerically simulating sampling intervals varying from 2 to 60 days. The precision limits of the uncertainties were successfully correlated to a hydrological reactivity index. The correlations were used to derive sampling frequency charts. These charts can be used by watershed managers to optimize the sampling frequency scheme for any watershed for a desired uncertainty level, provided that the dimensionless local hydrological reactivity can be calculated from previous records of continuous flow rates. The sampling frequency charts also suggest that, depending on the hydrological reactivity, expected uncertainties generated by monthly sampling range between ±6% and ±14% for the annual load and between -5% and +2.5% to +7.2% for the annual concentration average.

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