Measuring Bedload Sediment Flux in Large Rivers: New Data from the Mekong River and Its Applications in Assessing Geomorphic Change

Friday, 19 December 2014
Jim Best1, Christopher R Hackney2, Daniel R Parsons3, Stephen E Darby2, Julian Leyland4, Rolf E Aalto5 and Andrew Paul Nicholas6, (1)Univ Illinois Urbana Champaign, Geology, Geography, Mechanical Science and Engineering and Ven Te Chow Hydrosystems Laboratory, Urbana, IL, United States, (2)University of Southampton, Southampton, United Kingdom, (3)University of Hull, Hull, HU6, United Kingdom, (4)University of Southampton, Southampton, SO14, United Kingdom, (5)University of Exeter, Geography, Exeter, United Kingdom, (6)University of Exeter, Exeter, United Kingdom
Many large rivers are undergoing renewed and increasing anthropogenic-induced change as water diversions, new dams and greater water demands place enhanced stresses on these river basins. Examples of rivers undergoing significant change include the Amazon, Madeira, Nile, Yangtze and Mekong, with considerable ongoing debate raging as to the long-term geomorphic and ecological effects of major anthropogenic interventions. Assessing the effects of such change in large rivers is demanding, one reason being that sediment transport is often exceedingly difficult to measure, and thus data needed to inform the debate on the impact of anthropogenic change is frequently lacking.

Here, we report on one aspect of research being undertaken as part of STELAR-S2S – Sediment Transfer and Erosion on Large Alluvial Rivers – that is seeking to better understand the relationship between climate, anthropogenic impacts and sediment transport in some of the world’s largest rivers. We are using the Lower Mekong River as our study site, with the Mekong delta being one of only three in the world classified by the IPCC as ‘extremely vulnerable’ to future changes in climate. Herein, we describe details of bedload sediment flux estimation using repeated high-resolution multibeam echo sounder (MBES) bathymetric mapping along the Lower Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers in Cambodia. We are using MBES to quantify the spatial variation in sediment transport both along and also across the river at 11 sites in the study area. Predicted increases in the extraction of sediment from the river through sand dredging are thought likely to cause a significant decrease in downstream sediment flux, and future dam construction along the Mekong main channel potentially offers another source of significant change. These field results will be set in the light of these anthropogenic drivers on sediment flux in the Mekong River and their possible future effects on bar formation and channel migration.