Sediment Transport in Two Mediterranean Regulated Rivers

Sci Total Environ. 2016 Jan 1;540:101-13. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.08.018. Epub 2015 Sep 12.


Mediterranean climate is characterized by highly irregular rainfall patterns with marked differences between wet and dry seasons which lead to highly variable hydrological fluvial regimes. As a result, and in order to ensure water availability and reduce its temporal variability, a high number of large dams were built during the 20th century (more than 3500 located in Mediterranean rivers). Dams modify the flow regime but also interrupt the continuity of sediment transfer along the river network, thereby changing its functioning as an ecosystem. Within this context, the present paper aims to assess the suspended sediment loads and dynamics of two climatically contrasting Mediterranean regulated rivers (i.e. the Ésera and Siurana) during a 2-yr period. Key findings indicate that floods were responsible for 92% of the total suspended sediment load in the River Siurana, while this percentage falls to 70% for the Ésera, indicating the importance of baseflows on sediment transport in this river. This fact is related to the high sediment availability, with the Ésera acting as a non-supply-limited catchment due to the high productivity of the sources (i.e. badlands). In contrast, the Siurana can be considered a supply-limited system due to its low geomorphic activity and reduced sediment availability, with suspended sediment concentration remaining low even for high magnitude flood events. Reservoirs in both rivers reduce sediment load up to 90%, although total runoff is only reduced in the case of the River Ésera. A remarkable fact is the change of the hydrological character of the River Ésera downstream for the dam, shifting from a humid mountainous river regime to a quasi-invariable pattern, whereas the Siurana experiences the opposite effect, changing from a flashy Mediterranean river to a more constant flow regime below the dam.

Keywords: Barasona Reservoir; Ebro basin; Flow regime; Mediterranean; Sediment load; Siurana Reservoir; Suspended sediment transport.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't