Articles | Volume 16, issue 11
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 16, 4191–4204, 2012
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 16, 4191–4204, 2012

Research article 13 Nov 2012

Research article | 13 Nov 2012

Suspended sediment load in the tidal zone of an Indonesian river

F. A. Buschman1, A. J. F. Hoitink1,2, S. M. de Jong1, P. Hoekstra1, H. Hidayat2, and M. G. Sassi2 F. A. Buschman et al.
  • 1Institute for Marine and Atmospheric research Utrecht (IMAU), Department of Physical Geography, Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University, The Netherlands
  • 2Hydrology and Quantitative Water Management Group, Department of Environmental Sciences, Wageningen University, The Netherlands

Abstract. 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 tropical rivers. The increasing sediment loads pose a threat to coastal marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs. This study presents observations of suspended sediment loads in the Berau River (Kalimantan, Indonesia), which debouches into a coastal ocean that is a preeminent center of coral diversity. The Berau River is relatively small and drains a mountainous, still relatively pristine basin that receives abundant rainfall. In the tidal zone of the Berau River, flow velocity was measured over a large part of the river width using a horizontal acoustic Doppler current profiler (HADCP). Surrogate measurements of suspended sediment concentration were taken with an optical backscatter sensor (OBS). Averaged over the 6.5 weeks covered by the benchmark survey period, the suspended sediment load was estimated at 2 Mt yr−1. Based on rainfall-runoff modeling though, the river discharge peak during the survey was supposed to be moderate and the yearly averaged suspended sediment load is most likely somewhat higher than 2 Mt yr−1. 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 load in the Berau River would impose a severe stress on this global hotspot of coral reef diversity.