University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

Sediment Budget for Cane Land on the Lower Herbert River Floodplain, North Queensland, Australia

Visser, Fleur ORCID: (2003) Sediment Budget for Cane Land on the Lower Herbert River Floodplain, North Queensland, Australia. PhD thesis, Australian National University.

Text (PhD thesis)
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Land use in the river catchments of tropical North Queensland appears to have increased the export of sediment and nutrients to the coast. Although evidence of harmful effect of sediment on coastal and riverine ecosystems is limited, there is a growing concern about its possible negative impacts. Sugarcane cultivation on the floodplains of the tropical North Queensland river catchments is thought to be an important source of excess sediment in the river drainage systems.
Minimum-tillage, trash blanket harvesting has been shown to reduce erosion from sloping sugarcane fields, but in the strongly modified floodplain landscape other elements (e.g. drains, water furrows and headlands) could still be important sediment sources. The main objectives of this thesis are to quantify the amount of sediment coming from low-lying cane land and identify the important sediment sources in the landscape. The results of this thesis enable sugarcane farmers to take targeted measures for further reduction of the export of sediment and nutrients.
Sediment budgets provide a useful approach to identify and quantify potential sediment sources. For this study a sediment budget is calculated for a part of the Ripple Creek catchment, which is a sub-catchment of the Lower Herbert River. The input of sediment from all potential sources in cane land and the storage of sediment within the catchment have been quantified and compared with the output of sediment from the catchment. Input from, and storage on headlands, main drains, minor drains and water furrows, was estimated from erosion pin and surface profile measurements. Input from forested upland, input from fields and the output at the outlet of the catchment was estimated with discharge data from gauged streams and flumes. Data for the sediment budget were collected during two ‘wet’-seasons: 1999-2000 and 2000-2001.
The results of the sediment budget indicate that this tropical floodplain area is a net source of sediment. Plant cane fields, which do not have a protective trash cover, were the largest net source of sediment during the 1999-2000 season. Sediment input from water furrows was higher, but there was also considerable storage of sediment in this landscape element. Headlands tend to act as sinks. The source or sink function of drains is less clear, but seems to depend on their shape and vegetation cover.
An important problem in this study is the high uncertainty in the estimates of the sediment budget components and is, for example, likely to be the cause of the imbalance in the sediment budget. High uncertainties have particularly affected the results from the 20002001 season. The main source of uncertainty is spatial variation in the erosion and deposition processes. Uncertainty has to be taken into consideration when interpreting the budget results.

The observation of a floodplain as sediment source contradicts the general understanding that floodplains are areas of sediment storage within river catchments. A second objective of this thesis was therefore to provide an answer to the question: how can floodplains in the tropical North Queensland catchments can be a source of sediment?
In geomorphic literature various factors have been pointed out, that could control floodplain erosion processes. However, their importance is not 'uniquely identified'. Among the most apparent factors are the stream power of the floodwater and the resistance of the floodplain surface both through its sedimentary composition and the vegetation cover.
If the cultivated floodplains of the North Queensland catchments are considered in the light of these factors, there is a justified reason to expect them to be a sediment source. Cultivation has lowered the resistance of their surface; increased drainage has increased the drainage velocity and flood control structures have altered flooding patterns.
For the Ripple Creek floodplain four qualitative scenarios have been developed that describe erosion and deposition under different flow conditions. Two of these scenarios were experienced during the budget study, involving runoff from local hillslopes and heavy rainfall, which caused floodplain erosion. In the longer term larger flood events, involving floodwater from the Herbert River, may lead to different erosion and deposition processes.

The present study has shown that the tropical floodplain of the Herbert River catchment can be a source of sediment under particular flow conditions. It has also shown which elements in the sugarcane landscape are the most important sediment sources under these conditions. This understanding will enable sugarcane farmers to further reduce sediment export from cane land and prevent the negative impact this may have on the North Queensland coastal ecosystems.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information:

A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of
The Australian National University, January 2003.

Uncontrolled Discrete Keywords: land use, river catchments, North Queensland, tropical floodplains, sediment budget, cane land, SERG
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GB Physical geography
Divisions: College of Health, Life and Environmental Sciences > School of Science and the Environment
Depositing User: Fleur Visser
Date Deposited: 01 Sep 2016 09:18
Last Modified: 12 Jun 2021 04:00

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