Fluvial fluxes from the Magdalena River into Cartagena Bay, Caribbean Colombia: Trends, future scenarios, and connections with upstream human impacts

Juan Darío Restrepo Sr and Marko Tosic, Universidad EAFIT, Earth Sciences, Medellin, Colombia
The Magdalena River, the main contributor of continental fluxes into the Caribbean Sea, delivers important amounts of water and sediments into Cartagena Bay, a major estuarine system in northern Colombia. Here we explore the inter-annual trends of water discharge and sediment load flowing from the Magdalena River-Canal del Dique system into Cartagena Bay during the last three decades, forecast future scenarios of fluxes into the bay, and discuss possible connections between observed trends in fluvial inputs and trends in human intervention in the Magdalena River basin. Significant upward trends in annual runoff and sediment load during the mid-1980s, 1990s, and post-2000 are observed in the Magdalena and in the Canal del Dique flowing into Cartagena Bay. During the last decade, Magdalena streamflow and sediment load experienced increases of 24% and 33%, respectively, compared to the pre- 2000 year period. Meanwhile, the Canal del Dique witnessed increases in water discharge and sediment load of 28% and 48%, respectively. During 26 y of monitoring, the Canal del Dique has discharged ~ 177 Mt of sediment to the coastal zone, of which 52 Mt was discharged into Cartagena Bay. Currently, the Canal drains 6.5% and transports 5.1% of the Magdalena water discharge and sediment load. By 2022, water discharge and sediment flux from the Canal del Dique flowing to the coastal zone will witness increments of ~164% and 260%, respectively. Consequently, sediment fluxes into Cartagena Bay will witness increments as high as 8.2 Mt y-1 or 317%. Further analyses of upstream sediment load series for 21 tributary systems of the main Magdalena during the 20052010 period reveal that six tributaries, representing 55% of the analyzed Magdalena basin area, have witnessed increasing trends in sediment load, raising the river's sediment load by 44 Mt y-1. Overall, trends in sediment load of the Magdalena and the Canal del Dique during the last three decades are in close agreement with the observed trends in human induced upstream erosion. The last decade has witnessed even stronger increments in fluvial fluxes to Cartagena Bay. Our results emphasize the importance of the catchment-coast linkage in order to predict future changes of fluvial fluxes into Caribbean estuarine systems.