P1 Assessing Pollutant Turnover in Rivers by Target, Non-Target, and Toxicity Analysis

People Involved

Principal Investigators

Prof. Dr. Christiane Zarfl

University of Tübingen, Environmental Systems Analysis


Dr. Marc Schwientek

University of Tübingen, Hydrogeochemistry (until 06/2020)

Prof. Dr. Beate Escher

University of Tübingen, Environmental Toxicology & Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research (UFZ), Cell Toxicology

Prof. Dr. Christian Zwiener

University of Tübingen, Environmental Analytical Chemistry


Dr. Martina Werneburg

University of Tübingen, Environmental Analytical Chemistry (until 10/2019)

Dr. Maximilian Müller

University of Tübingen, Environmental Analytical Chemistry & Environmental Toxicology (PhD finished 11/2020)

Dr. Clarissa Glaser

University of Tübingen, Environmental Systems Analysis (PhD finished 11/2020)

Ran Wei (associated)

University of Tübingen, RTG Hydrosystem Modelling

Research Questions and General Approach

Research Questions

Rivers integrate pollutants’ emissions and processes of the whole catchment. They also receive a broad spectrum of pollutants via direct and indirect inputs. In-stream processes such as sorption to particles, sedimentation, and transformation, both biotic and abiotic, modify pollutant signals. However, toxic effects of mixtures are largely unknown.

Thus the objectives of project P1 “Rivers” are:

  • To distinguish dominant input sources (diffuse vs. point, surface vs. subsurface) for a large set of chemical pollutants and their degradation products in rivers.
  • To quantify transformation processes within studied river channels compared to turnover in other compartments of the catchment
  • To identify important driving factors of natural attenuation processes in different river reaches.
  • To define suitable indicator chemicals or pollutant patterns that can be used as proxies for relevant environmental processes.

General Approach of P1

In the “River” project P1 we combine the following methods to answer the research questions:

  • Lagrangian sampling of river segments of contrasting characteristics
  • Non-target screening with high resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS) to detect pollutant patterns and transformation products
  • Cell-based bioassays for different modes of toxic action as risk-scaled sum parameters of mixtures of pollutants
  • Mass-balance models using chemical and bioanalytical equivalent concentrations (BEQ)


Combining chemical and toxicological analysis to assess water quality in the Ammer River and its tributaries
Quantification of groundwater exfiltration into the Ammer River

Quantification of micropollutants’ net attenuation in different reaches of the Ammer River
Analyzing micropollutant and toxicological effect dynamics during a rain event
Investigating particle-associated pollutant dynamics during a rain event
Modelling sediment and pollutant loads according to different general source areas