Suspended sediment fluxes in an Indonesian river draining a rainforested basin subject to land cover change

F.A. Buschman, A.J.F. Hoitink, S.M. de Jong, P. Hoekstra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Forest clearing for reasons of timber production, open pit mining and the establishment of oil palm plantations generally results in excessively high sediment loads in the tropics. The increasing sediment fluxes pose a threat to coastal marine ecosystems such as coral reefs. This study presents observations of suspended sediment fluxes in the Berau river (Indonesia), which debouches into a coastal ocean that can be considered the preeminent center of coral diversity. The Berau is an example of a small river draining a mountainous, relatively pristine basin that receives abundant rainfall. Flow velocity was measured over a large part of the river width at a station under the influence of tides, using a Horizontal Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (HADCP). Surrogate measurements of suspended sediment concentration were taken with an Optical Backscatter Sensor (OBS). Tidally averaged suspended sediment concentration increases with river discharge, implying that the tidally averaged suspended sediment flux increases non-linearly with river discharge. Averaged over the 6.5 weeks observations covered by the benchmark survey, the tidally averaged suspended sediment flux was estimated at 2 Mt y-1. Considering the wet conditions during the observation period, this figure may be considered as an upper limit of the yearly averaged flux. This flux is significantly smaller than what could have been expected from the characteristics of the catchment. The consequences of ongoing clearing of rainforest were explored using a plot scale erosion model. When rainforest, which still covered 50–60 % of the basin in 2007, is converted to production land, soil loss is expected to increase with a factor between 10 and 100. If this soil loss is transported seaward as suspended sediment, the increase in suspended sediment flux in the Berau river would impose a severe sediment stress on the global hotspot of coral reef diversity. The impact of land cover changes will largely depend on the degree in which the Berau estuary acts as a sediment trap
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7137-7175
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences Discussions
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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