WP5: Discharge regimes, morphometry and tides in the Mahakam delta channel network
Dr. A.J.F. Hoitink
Dr. Gadis Sri Haryani
Mr. M. Sassi, MSc
Prof. Dr. Peter A. Troch
Dr. Dirk H. Hoekman
Mr. Paul J.J.F. Torfs, MSc
Dr. Safwan Hadi
Dr. P. Molnár
Mr. M. Schroevers, MSc
3. Summary of the project
Relations between river discharge and channel characteristics such as mean depth, surface width and
surface slope are known as the hydraulic geometry (HG). The so-called at-site HG concerns channel
properties at an individual location, whereas the downstream HG relates channel properties from different
downstream locations through some characteristic discharge of constant frequency of exceedance
(e.g. bankfull discharge). Tidal rivers are intrinsically more complex than alluvial rivers,
since the river discharge interacts nonlinearly with the tide. The present proposal is to formulate
new HG relations that can be applied to the freshwater part of a tidal river network.
In specific, the objective is to establish and explain at-site and downstream HG relations
between discharge, tidal and morphometric variables in the Mahakam delta distributary system, which can be
regarded as a lowland tidal river network. The proposed methods include field measurements, remote
sensing for observation of water surface width and height, and hydrodynamic modelling. The field
campaign encompasses bathymetric surveys, installation of water level gauges, ADCP discharge
measurements, sediment sampling and characterisation of riparian vegetation. Discharges obtained
from ADCP surveying are expected to be function of mean depth and longitudinal surface slope
from level gauging. A hydrodynamic model will be used after calibration to establish downstream
HG relations, and to investigate the physical mechanisms that result in the HG relations found.
The relations between sediment and freshwater discharges, tides and morphometry in the Mahakam
delta will allow to evaluate and anticipate effects of sealevel rise, climate change and
ongoing human interference. Issues relevation for society include the risk of flooding
and navigability of channel sections. Appropriate scenarios will be setup in collaboration
with the other research groups in the cluster. Understanding the hydraulics of the delta is
important to each of the other research groups within the cluster, as the alluvial flows in the
tributaries under the influence of tides are the principal agents of sediment dispersal. The
remote sensing component in this proposal is based on PALSAR L-band radar aboard the ALOS satellite,
which covers peninsular Southeast Asia. The use of radar water surface measurements in hydraulic
research broadens the application domain of ALOS satellite.
4. Detailed description of the project
a. Scientific Background
Hydraulic geometry of a river network
The hydraulic geometry (HG) of a river network can be defined as the relation between
discharge and channel morphometric properties such as water surface width, mean depth,
cross-sectional area and surface slope. The HG of alluvial rivers has been studied for
decades (Leopold and Maddock, 1953), focussing on relationships for different discharges
at an individual cross section, or for different downstream locations related through some
characteristic discharge of constant frequency of exceedance. The former relations are termed
at-site HG, of which the stage-discharge relations have gained widest application (cf. Kuczera, 1999).
The latter relations are referred to as downstream HG (cf. Molnár and Ramínez, 2002),
and regard for instance the spatial relations between water surface width and bankfull
discharge or mean annual discharge. Research into HG relations in river networks has
developed into the recent trend to try and find general hydraulic geometry relations
on the catchment-scale (Dodov and Foufoula-Georgiou, 2004), and at a subsequent stage
to explain the general hydraulic geometry on the basis of physical properties such as
channel planform characteristics (e.g. sinuosity, meander wavelength, vegetation characteristics)
and channel cross-sectional shape (Dodov and Foufoula-Georgiou, 2004).
Tidal rivers are intrinsically more complex than alluvial rivers, as the tidal propagation is
influenced by the river discharge and vice versa (e.g. Horrevoets et al., 2004). Whereas stage-discharge
relations in alluvial rivers are often useful despite the occurring hysteresis loops as a result of
backwater effects, the bidirectional tidal flow superimposed on the river discharge in a tidal river
impedes any direct relation between water level and discharge. Since the interaction between river
discharge and the tidal motion is nonlinear, complete separation of tidal and river discharges or
water levels is infeasible. Variation of water level or mean velocity at tidal frequencies is
primarily caused by the tidal motion, but the associated variation of turbulence level and surface
slope alternately enhances and counteracts river discharges, leading to river discharge variation at
tidal frequencies. In turn, low-frequency variation of water levels and tidal-mean velocity is
primarily caused by the river discharge, but may contain a considerable tidal component. In particular,
the tidal-mean momentum flux directed upstream is balanced by an upstream mean water level increase,
which features a spring-neap cycle as the tidal mean momentum flux covaries with the tidal range.
Accordingly, an alluvial discharge wave may be admitted to a delta region preferentially during neap tide.
Contemporary methods for forecasting of water levels in tidal rivers employ neural networks that are
trained with time-series of discharge, tidal-mean water level and tidal range (Supharatid, 2003).
However, the underlying physics are locked up in a set of optimal weights and threshold values, and
are generally not revealed to the user. Alternatively, hydrodynamical models can be employed to analyse
the physics governing tidal propagation and discharge distributions, provided that a digital terrain
model, boundary conditions and comprehensive dataset on hydraulic roughness are available. Only
recently, these models have reached a level of development in which they can simulate inundation
events (Stelling, 2002; Hesselink et al., 2003). Information about stage-dependent hydraulic
roughness, prerequisite for a hydrodynamic model, can be derived from the at-site HG relation between
surface level slope, hydraulic radius and cross-section averaged velocity.
b. Specific Objective(s)
The objective of the present proposal is to establish at-site and downstream HG relations
between discharge, tidal and morphometric variables in the freshwater part of the Mahakam delta
channel network, and to explain the physical mechanisms behind these relations using
hydrodynamic models.For that purpose, new functional relations between hydraulic and
morphometric channel variables have to be formulated to apply HG concepts to the case of a
river network with tides, which has never been done before. Variables pertaining specifically
to tidal rivers include tidal velocity amplitude, tidal average stream depth and tidal range.
Downstream HG relations will give empirical information about the river discharge distribution
at bifurcations as a function of the tide. Using additional turbidity measurements, this will
elucidate how alluvial suspended sediment is being distributed over the delta, which is
important to studies in the cluster focussing on mangroves and on the geological evolution
of the delta. Knowledge about the HG of the Mahakam tidal river network will provide
navigation characteristics of channel sections and insights into the risk of flooding of the
delta. From an instrumentation point of view, the proposed analysis will yield the information
to monitor discharges using low-cost measurements such as level gauging or remote sensing.
Establishing downstream HG relations requires the definition of consistent recurrence interval
events, such as the mean annual discharge. This is related to the finite propagation speed of
compound discharge waves that develop under varying rainfall conditions within a river network,
causing spatial differences in relative river stage. The mean annual discharge, or any other
recurrence interval event, therefore does not occur everywhere in the river network at the
same time. Zooming in on a tidal river network such as the Mahakam delta, phase differences
in relative river stage can be neglected due to the limited extent of the delta, when
compared to the length of a discharge wave. This permits to consider the river discharge
at the upstream border of the delta as being normative for the entire delta. Downstream
HG relations within the delta will be determined primarily by the interaction between
tides and discharge distribution at bifurcations.
Mahakam delta tidal river network
The Mahakam delta has prograded about 60 km over the past 5000 years, resulting in a
quasi-symmetric network of tidal and distributary channels. The subaerial delta nowadays
covers some 1800 km2, consisting of mangrove areas near the shore, Nypa swamps in the
central areas, and lowland forest near the apex, corresponding to the fist bifurcation.
At the apex, the Mahakam River drains about 75.000 km2. From available rainfall data and
the size of the drainage basin, the annual mean discharge was estimated by Allen and
Chambers (1998) to be in the order of 3000 m3 sec-1. Floods of up to 5000 m3 sec-1
may occur in the upper and middle reaches of the catchment, which is separated from
the river mouth of the drainage basin by a subsiding area characterized by a low relief
alluvial plain and several large lakes, located some 150 km upstream of the delta
plain (Roberts and Sydow, 2003). The lakes create a buffer capacity causing the
dampening of the flood surges (Allen and Chambers, 1998) and effectively level off
Mahakam river floods, resulting in a relatively constant discharge in the lower reaches
of the Mahakam river, and in the delta. The absence of peaks in river discharge has
resulted in a delta plain that neither features natural levees nor crevasse splays,
and avulsions of distributary channels have never taken place. As the delta prograded,
bifurcations of the fluvial distributaries occurred about every 10 km. The channels in
the Mahakam have variable depths generally ranging in between 3 to 12 m.
There are three reasons that render the Mahakam delta suitable to study HG relations in a
tidal network. First, morphodynamic changes in the distributaries are small. Morphology
changes influence the at-site as well as downstream HG relations and morphological
activity therefore limits the time span over which HG relations are valid. The distributary
channels in the Mahakam delta are straight and contain a meandering thalweg. Analysis of
aerial photographs dating back some 50 years has confirmed that channel locations are
virtually fixed (Allen et al. 1976). Secondly, the absence of floodplains and the geometrical
structure of the Mahakam delta justifies the view of the delta as a channel network.
Understanding of detailed flow characteristics, e.g. at the location of a bifurcation,
requires a two-dimensional approach that accounts for three-dimensional effects (cf.
Blanckaert and De Vriend, 2003).
Figure 1 Mahakam delta channel network
A final aspect that facilitates HG analysis in the Mahakam tidal channel network is that
baroclinic influences in the distributary channels are limited, which was established
during the pilot phase of the project. During the dry season, salinity intrusion typical
of estuaries was established to be confined to the first 20 km upstream of the river mouth
of the southernmost distributary. The distributary channel subjected to study is the deepest
channel of the Mahakam delta, which is maintained at depth to keep the city of Samarinda
accessible. The other distributaries are shallower, and therefore are expected to experience
a weaker salinity influence. During the wet season, high discharges further push back the
saline wedges. Our proposed analysis will be focussed on the distributary reaches free of
substantial density differences, which also cause water slope differences and effect HG relations.
Field campaigns are planned in the wet season of 2006/2007 and in the dry season of 2007, consisting of:
detailed bathymetry mapping on the basis of echo soundings
surface elevation measurements with arrays of self-contained pressure sensors
discharge / turbidity measurements with an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP)
turbidity monitoring with a self-cleaning Optical Backscatter (OBS) sensor.
sediment sampling and characterization of riparian vegetation
Discharges will be measured at the center of rectilinear transects that do not branch off over a
length of about 10 km. The ADCP measurements will be taken using a speedboat with limited draft.
Site-specific measurement protocols will be developed to ascertain the accuracy of the acoustic
discharge measurements (cf. Muste et al., 2004a; 2004b). Pressure sensors will be installed at the
beginning and at the end of the specific transect under investigation, to establish the local
longitudinal surface level slope. Calculations have shown that the tides in the Mahakam delta channels
generate a surface level difference in the order of 40 cm over 10 km at springtide. At the center
of a transect under investigation, where the ADCP surveys take place, the OBS sensor will be installed,
which will be calibrated in situ. The OBS data combined with ADCP backscatter can be used to
establish the cross-channel variation in suspended sediment concentration (Hoitink and Hoekstra, 2005).
The investigated transects will be characterized in terms of bottom sediment composition and
vegetation at the riverbanks.
Remote sensing images will be employed to obtain a delineation of the Mahakam tidal channel network
at stages of the tide coinciding with the passovers of the ALOS satellite, which is planned to be
launched in December 2005 and covers peninsular SE Asia (see also point 8 about integration). The
PALSAR L-band radar aboard the ALOS is delivers a series of 8 observations (45 days interval) during
the first year at 100 m resolution, and additional coverages at 50 m resolution during the whole
mission period. Special products with 10 m resolution will be requested, which are expected to yield
surface width information. In addition to channel network delineation, the ALOS data will be used
to build images of centimeter-scale spatial variation in surface level at the time of the passovers,
using multipass interferometry (cf. Alsdorf et al., 2000). It will be investigated if synoptic
views of the tidal wave in the delta network can be constructed.
The hydrodynamic modeling part of the project will consist of the setup, calibration and analysis of
a one-dimensional network model to capture the interactions between
tides and river discharges at the scale of the delta and
a quasi three-dimensional (Q3D) model of the bifurcation area at the delta apex,
to understand the details of the discharge distribution at the main freshwater divide.
Existing models developed at WL|Delft Hydraulics will be used together with WP10, viz. the SOBEK
network model and DELFT 3D. A central element in the development of both the network model and the
Q3D model will be the stage dependent hydraulic roughness, related to bottom sediment, bed forms
and vegetation at the riverbanks. Over the past decade, a major effort has been undertaken in The
Netherlands to improve model performance during river surges. The resulting state-of-the-art model
components will be validated in a tropical context.
d. Scientific Relevance
See point 4a.
5. Participation in a graduate School ('onderzoeksschool')
The PhD candidate will participate in the SENSE Research School for Socio-Economic and
Natural Sciences of the Environment.
6. Scientific performance of members of the research group(s)
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Pugh and J.M. Vassie. To appear in Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science.
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Kroonenberg (2005) Late-Holocene evolution of the Mahakam delta, East Kalimantan, Indonesia.
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Red River Delta. Ocean dynamics, 54(3), 424-434.
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connected to shallow-water coral reefs. Marine Geology, 208(1), 13-31.
Hoitink, A.J.F., Hoekstra, P., & Maren, D.S. van (2003). Flow asymmetry
associated with astronomical tides: Implications for the residual transport of sediment.
Journal of Geophysical Research, 108(C10), 3315-3315.
Hoitink, A.J.F., & Hoekstra, P. (2003). Hydrodynamic control of the
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