Diffuse phosphorus models in the United States and Europe: Their usages, scales, and uncertainties

D. E. Radcliffe, Jim Freer, Oscar Schoumans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

77 Citations (Scopus)


Today there are many well-established computer models that are being used at different spatial and temporal scales to describe water, sediment, and P transport from diffuse sources. In this review, we describe how diffuse P models are commonly being used in the United States and Europe, the challenge presented by different temporal and spatial scales, and the uncertainty in model predictions. In the United States, for water bodies that do not meet water quality standards, a total maximum daily load (TMDL) of the pollutant of concern must be set that will restore water quality and a plan implemented to reduce the pollutant load to meet the TMDL. Models are used to estimate the current maximum daily and annual average load, to estimate the contribution from different nonpoint sources, and to develop scenarios for achieving the TMDL target. In Europe, the EC-Water Framework Directive is the driving force to improve water quality and models are playing a similar role to that in the United States , but the models being used are not the same. European models are more likely to take into account leaching of P and the identification of critical source areas. Scaling up to the watershed scale has led to overparameterized models that cannot be used to test hypotheses regarding nonpoint sources of P or transport processes using the monitoring data that is typically available. There is a need for more parsimonious models and monitoring data that takes advantage of the technological improvements that allow nearly continuous sampling for P and sediment. Tools for measuring model uncertainty must become an integral part of models and be readily available for model users.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1956-1967
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2009


Dive into the research topics of 'Diffuse phosphorus models in the United States and Europe: Their usages, scales, and uncertainties'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this