Contributions of human activities to suspended-sediment yield during storm events from a steep, small, tropical watershed, American Samoa

Monday, 15 December 2014
Alex T Messina and Trent W Biggs, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, United States
Anthropogenic watershed disturbance by agriculture, deforestation, roads, and urbanization can alter the timing, composition, and mass of sediment loads to adjacent coral reefs, causing enhanced sediment stress on corals near the outlets of impacted watersheds like Faga’alu, American Samoa. To quantify the increase in sediment loading to the adjacent priority coral reef experiencing sedimentation stress, suspended-sediment yield (SSY) from undisturbed and human-disturbed portions of a small, steep, tropical watershed was measured during baseflow and storm events of varying magnitude. Data on precipitation, discharge, turbidity, and suspended-sediment concentration (SSC) were collected over three field campaigns and continuous monitoring from January 2012 to March 2014, which included 88 storm events. A combination of paired- and nested-watershed study designs using sediment budget, disturbance ratio, and sediment rating curve methodologies was used to quantify the contribution of human-disturbed areas to total SSY. SSC during base- and stormflows was significantly higher downstream of an open-pit aggregate quarry, indicating the quarry is a key sediment source requiring sediment discharge mitigation. Comparison of event-wise SSY from the upper, undisturbed watershed, and the lower, human-disturbed watershed showed the Lower watershed accounted for more than 80% of total SSY on average, and human activities have increased total sediment loading to the coast by approximately 200%. Four storm characteristics were tested as predictors of event SSY using Pearson’s and Spearman’s correlation coefficients. Similar to mountainous watersheds in semi-arid and temperate watersheds, SSY from both the undisturbed and disturbed watersheds had the highest correlation with event maximum discharge, Qmax (Pearson’s R=0.88 and 0.86 respectively), and were best fit by a power law relationship. The resulting model of event-SSY from Faga’alu is being incorporated as part of a larger project investigating relationships and interactions between terrigenous sediment, water circulation over the reef, and the spatial distribution of sediment accumulation under various conditions in a linked watershed and fringing-reef embayment.