Next phase in RIBUST WP 2: runoff experiments

Working package 2 consists of two columns: soil core sampling of vegetated filter strips (VFS) and an experimental approach. For the latter, we conducted artificial runoff experiments using grassland plots (2 x 5 m) that were subjected to artificial runoff. The water was applied through an overflow tank and was spiked with bromide, to be able to distinguish it from autochthonous water in the soil, as well as phosphate, to mimic nutrient enriched agricultural runoff. Our main interest was on how concentrated runoff (i.e., due to flow convergence in the field or at the field edge) affects flow characteristics and VFS performance. To this end, we used three different widths of the overflow tank and analysed total water budget and flow velocities, as well as bromide and phosphate concentrations at the end of the plots.

With this straight-forward, yet elaborate setup we can analyse several runoff characteristics that have an effect on buffer performance, for instance if the soil is able to take up phosphorus (P) or if P is being released. (C) BAW-IKT / Ramler

The outdoor experiments are completed, currently the data is processed and analysed. We expect that flow concentrations have a significant effect on runoff characteristics, e.g., less infiltration and, in turn, a higher amount of runoff water, accompanied by higher flow velocities and less time for soil/water interaction processes. All these aspects would have direct consequences for VFS performance. However, flow concentration is rarely accounted for in VFS design guidelines and recommendations.

Runoff water was applied to the plots using overflow tanks of different width. (C) BAW-IKT / Ramler
Also drones were used in a preliminary experiment to check if thermal imaging can be used to depict flow path development. (C) BAW-IKT / Ramler

Keeping Up with Phosphorus Dynamics: Perspective article published

Together with colleagues from the UK, we published an article in Frontiers in Environmental Science in which we make a case for a more holistic approach in vegetated filter strip (VFS) research, design, policy, and implementation.

The paper can be downloaded for free at:

Schematic overview of key pathways, processes, and cycling of phosphorus in VFS.

Focussing on phosphorus (P), we describe the downfalls of current approaches and ways for improvement. In a VFS, the amount of incoming P must not exceed the amount of P that the soil can retain and the amount of P that can be removed, e.g., by harvesting the vegetation. This requires comprehensive VFS designs in accordance to actual runoff and erosion patterns and a more flexible positioning in line with local conditions. Designs and evaluations of VFS that match the complexity of the processes involved are crucial for the effective and long-term protection of surface waters.

We hope that this article stimulates a much needed discussion on the potential and limits of state-of-the-art VFS.