Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Improving and parameterising nitrogen and phosphorus modelling for application of LUCI in New Zealand

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Version 2 2023-09-22, 01:43
Version 1 2021-11-23, 19:51
posted on 2023-09-22, 01:43 authored by Trodahl, Martha

Over the last 50 years freshwater and marine environments have become severely impaired due to contamination from pathogens, heavy metals, sediment, industrial chemicals and nutrients (MEA 2005b). In many countries, including New Zealand, increased nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) loading to terrestrial and freshwater environments from diffuse nutrient sources are of particular concern (MEA 2005a; PCE 2015b; Steffen et al. 2015) and many governments now mandate control of diffuse nutrient loss to water. Water quality models are invaluable tools that can assist with decision making around this widespread issue through exploration of the current situation and future scenarios.  Many water quality models exist, functioning at a variety of temporal and spatial scales and varying in detail and complexity. However, few, if any, simultaneously represent sub-field to catchment scale processes and outcomes, both of which are required to fully address water quality issues associated with diffuse nutrient sources. Those that do, likely require extensive time and expertise to operate. Water quality models embedded in the Land Utilisation and Capability Indicator (LUCI), an ecosystem service decision support framework, offer the opportunity to overcome these limitations. Being highly spatially explicit, yet straightforward to use, they can inform and assist individual land owners, catchment managers and other stakeholders with planning, decision making and management of water quality at sub-field to landscape scale.  To model diffuse nutrient losses LUCI, like many catchment scale water quality models, requires some form of estimated nutrient loss, or export coefficient, from land units within the catchment of interest. To be representative export coefficients must consider climate, soil, topography, and land cover and management variables. A number of methods of export coefficient derivation exist, although generally they consider only very limited geo-climatic, land cover and land management variables.  The principal aim of this study is development of algorithms capable of calculating New Zealand site specific N and P export coefficients from detailed geo-climatic, land cover and land management variables, for application in LUCI water quality models. Algorithms for pastoral land cover are developed from a large dataset comprising real pastoral farm input and output data from nutrient budgeting model OVERSEER. Algorithms are extended to land covers other than pasture, albeit in a limited manner. This is achieved through rescaling of the pastoral algorithms to account for relative differences in literature reported N and P losses from pasture and a variety of other New Zealand land covers. Application of the developed algorithms in LUCI water quality models results in positioning of export coefficients at the DEM grid square scale (≤ 15 m x 15 m for New Zealand). In addition, intra-basin configuration is considered in LUCI, at the same grid square scale, as water and nutrient flows are cascaded through the catchment. Application of the export coefficient calculating algorithms are applied to two contrasting New Zealand catchments. Tuapaka catchment, an 85ha agricultural foothill catchment in Manawatu, North Island, and Lake Rotorua catchment, a 502 km2 volcanic, mixed land cover catchment in Bay of Plenty, North Island.  This research is supported by Ravensdown, a farmer owned co-operative, which plans to use LUCI extensively to advise and assist farmers with water quality issues. The ability to model mitigation strategies in LUCI is an important capability. Therefore, this research also includes a review of five particularly important on-farm mitigation strategies, which will later be used by the wider LUCI development team to assist with better parameterisation and improved performance of mitigation options in LUCI.  Application of the developed algorithms at farm to catchment scale in LUCI results in considerably more nuanced, detailed maps and data showing N and P sources and pathways, compared to LUCI’s previously used ‘one export coefficient per land cover’ approach. Although results indicate absolute nutrient loss values are not always ‘correct’ compared to either OVERSEER predictions or in-stream water quality measurements, these differences appear comparable to those seen with similar water quality models. In addition, the issue of representativeness of OVERSEER predictions and in-stream water quality measurements exists.  Nevertheless improvement to absolute predictions is always an aim. This research indicates further improvements to LUCI water quality predictions could result from refinement of both pastoral and other land cover algorithms, and from improved representation of attenuation processes in LUCI, including groundwater representation. However, lack of measured on-land and in-stream N and P loss data is a major challenge to both algorithm refinement and to evaluation of results. In addition, more detailed spatial data would provide more nuanced results from algorithm application.  Although the algorithm application context in this research is LUCI water quality models applied in New Zealand, this does not preclude application of the developed algorithms in other export coefficient based, catchment scale water quality models. Using spatial data pertaining to climate, soil, topographic and land management variables, land units of combined variables can be identified and the algorithms applied, resulting in explicitly positioned export coefficients that can be fed into the catchment scale water quality model of interest. Therefore, developments made here potentially represent a wider contribution to catchment scale modelling using export coefficients.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

CC BY 4.0

Degree Discipline

Physical Geography

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


Jackson, Bethanna; Deslippe, Julie