Estimation of sedimentation rates in the distributary basin of the Mississippi River, the Atchafalaya River Basin, USA

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Courtesy of IWA Publishing

The Atchafalaya River Basin (ARB) is the largest distributary basin of the Mississippi River composing anastomosing channels, backwater swamps, freshwater marshes, and wetland forests. Sedimentation in the ARB has presented management issues concerning habitat changes from open water areas to bottomland hardwood forests. A thorough understanding of sediment transport and deposition in the basin is not only required for proper management of the ARB, but is crucial for regional sediment budgets that affect the Mississippi River Delta Plain. In this study, we calculated 31 years (1980–2010) of total suspended sediment (TSS) inflow and outflow of the Atchafalaya River to quantify the long-term sediment retention in the basin. We then estimated sedimentation rates in the basin by spatially relating the retention with changes of turbid water area derived from Landsat imagery. The study found an annual average TSS inflow of 54.0 megatonnes (MT) and an annual average TSS outflow of 48.7 MT, resulting in an average annual retention of 5.3 MT. Spatially derived mean sedimentation rates were estimated between 0.06 and 0.153 mm d−1. The spatial estimates for sedimentation proved promising and with more sediment data available could become an invaluable tool for managing the ARB in the future.

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