Factors controlling sediment yield in a major South American drainage basin: the Magdalena River, Colombia



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The Magdalena River, a major fluvial system draining most of the Colombian Andes, has the highest sediment yield of any medium- sized or large river in South America. We examined sediment yield and its response to control variables in the Magdalena drainage basin based on a multi-year dataset of sediment loads from 32 tributary catchments. Various morphometric, hydrologic, and climatic variables were estimated in order to understand and predict the variation in sediment yield. Sediment yield varies from 128 to 2200 t kmK2 yrK1 for catchments ranging from 320 to 59,600 km2. The mean sediment yield for 32 sub-basins within the Magdalena basin is w690 t kmK2 yrK1. Mean annual runoff is the dominant control and explains 51% of the observed variance in sediment yield. A multiple regression model, including two control variables, runoff and maximum water discharge, explains 58% of the variance. This model is efficient (MEZ0.89) and is a valuable tool for predicting total sediment yield from tributary catchments in the Magdalena basin. Multiple correlations for those basins corresponding to the upper Magdalena, middle basin, Eastern Cordillera, and catchment areas greater than 2000 km2, explain 75, 77, 89, and 78% of the variance in sediment yield, respectively. Although more variance is explained when dataset are grouped into categories, the models are less efficient (ME!0.72). Within the spatially distributed models, six catchment variables predict sediment yield, including runoff, precipitation, precipitation peakedness, mean elevation, mean water discharge, and relief. These estimators are related to the relative importance of climate and weathering, hillslope erosion, and fluvial transport processes. Time series analysis indicates that significant increases in sediment load have occurred over 68% of the catchment area, while 31% have experienced a decreasing trend in sediment load and thus yield. Land use analysis and increasing sediment load trends indicate that erosion within the catchment has increased over the last 10–20 years.


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