Arctic River Discharge and Sediment Loads --- an Overview

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 5:30 PM
James P Syvitski1, Irina Overeem2, G Robert Brakenridge1, Benjamin Hudson1 and Sagy Cohen3, (1)CSDMS Facility, INSTAAR, Boulder, CO, United States, (2)Univ Colorado, Boulder, CO, United States, (3)University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL, United States
Evidence suggests that river discharge has been increasing (+10%) over the last 30 years (1977-2007) for most arctic rivers. The peak melt month occurs earlier in the season in 66% of the studied rivers. Cold season flow is also increasing. Satellite discharge estimates, daily, based on microwave radiometry, are now possible from 1998 onwards. Daily river discharge hindcasts over the last 60 years using the water balance model WBMsed at a 10km spatial resolution are now available. The WBMsed model can be used in forecast mode assuming valid input climatology. The challenge here has been the accuracy of sub-polar precipitation grids. While each of these three methods (gauging, orbital sensing, modeling) has temporal and spatial coverage limitations, the combination of all three methods provides for a realistic way forward for estimating local discharge across the pan arctic. Flood inundation products are routinely produced for the pan-arctic using automated mapping algorithms developed by the Dartmouth Flood Observatory. The determination of artic river sediment loads is less than ideal. Some rivers have only been monitored for a short number of years, and many have not been monitored at all. The WBMsed model is perhaps the best method of estimating the daily sediment flux to the Arctic Ocean, at least for rivers where the mean discharge is greater than 30 m3/s. Additionally there is limited-duration field monitoring by national surveys. New methods are being explored, including back calculating the delivery of sediment to the coastal ocean by plume dimensions observed from space (MODIS, LandSat). These methods have had moderate success when applied to plumes extending in the Greenland fjords. Canada maintains an active circa 7-y satellite program (ArcticNet) to track the Mackenzie discharge during the spring-summer runoff period when turbid river water is apt to flow under and over marginal sea ice in the Beaufort Sea.