Articles | Volume 21, issue 5
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 21, 2579–2594, 2017
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 21, 2579–2594, 2017

Research article 24 May 2017

Research article | 24 May 2017

Hydrology of inland tropical lowlands: the Kapuas and Mahakam wetlands

Hidayat Hidayat1,2, Adriaan J. Teuling1, Bart Vermeulen1,7, Muh Taufik1,8, Karl Kastner1, Tjitske J. Geertsema1, Dinja C. C. Bol1, Dirk H. Hoekman3, Gadis Sri Haryani2, Henny A. J. Van Lanen1, Robert M. Delinom4, Roel Dijksma1, Gusti Z. Anshari5, Nining S. Ningsih6, Remko Uijlenhoet1, and Antonius J. F. Hoitink1 Hidayat Hidayat et al.
  • 1Hydrology and Quantitative Water Management Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, the Netherlands
  • 2Research Center for Limnology, Indonesian Institute of Sciences, Cibinong, Indonesia
  • 3Earth System Science and Climate Change Group, Wageningen University, the Netherlands
  • 4Research Center for Geotechnology, Indonesian Institute of Sciences, Bandung, Indonesia
  • 5Soil Science Department, Tanjungpura University, Pontianak, Indonesia
  • 6Faculty of Earth Sciences and Technology, Bandung Institute of Technology, Bandung, Indonesia
  • 7Department of Water Engineering and Management, University of Twente, Enschede, the Netherlands
  • 8Department of Geophysics and Meteorology, Bogor Agricultural University, Bogor, Indonesia

Abstract. Wetlands are important reservoirs of water, carbon and biodiversity. They are typical landscapes of lowland regions that have high potential for water retention. However, the hydrology of these wetlands in tropical regions is often studied in isolation from the processes taking place at the catchment scale. Our main objective is to study the hydrological dynamics of one of the largest tropical rainforest regions on an island using a combination of satellite remote sensing and novel observations from dedicated field campaigns. This contribution offers a comprehensive analysis of the hydrological dynamics of two neighbouring poorly gauged tropical basins; the Kapuas basin (98 700 km2) in West Kalimantan and the Mahakam basin (77 100 km2) in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. Both basins are characterised by vast areas of inland lowlands. Hereby, we put specific emphasis on key hydrological variables and indicators such as discharge and flood extent. The hydroclimatological data described herein were obtained during fieldwork campaigns carried out in the Kapuas over the period 2013–2015 and in the Mahakam over the period 2008–2010. Additionally, we used the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) rainfall estimates over the period 1998–2015 to analyse the distribution of rainfall and the influence of El-Niño – Southern Oscillation. Flood occurrence maps were obtained from the analysis of the Phase Array type L-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (PALSAR) images from 2007 to 2010. Drought events were derived from time series of simulated groundwater recharge using time series of TRMM rainfall estimates, potential evapotranspiration estimates and the threshold level approach. The Kapuas and the Mahakam lake regions are vast reservoirs of water of about 1000 and 1500 km2 that can store as much as 3 and 6.5 billion m3 of water, respectively. These storage capacity values can be doubled considering the area of flooding under vegetation cover. Discharge time series show that backwater effects are highly influential in the wetland regions, which can be partly explained by inundation dynamics shown by flood occurrence maps obtained from PALSAR images. In contrast to their nature as wetlands, both lowland areas have frequent periods with low soil moisture conditions and low groundwater recharge. The Mahakam wetland area regularly exhibits low groundwater recharge, which may lead to prolonged drought events that can last up to 13 months. It appears that the Mahakam lowland is more vulnerable to hydrological drought, leading to more frequent fire occurrences than in the Kapuas basin.

Short summary
Hydrological prediction is crucial but in tropical lowland it is difficult, considering data scarcity and river system complexity. This study offers a view of the hydrology of two tropical lowlands in Indonesia. Both lowlands exhibit the important role of upstream wetlands in regulating the flow downstream. We expect that this work facilitates a better prediction of fire-prone conditions in these regions.