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Geology, Geography, and Humans Battle for Dominance over the Delivery of Fluvial Sediment to the Coastal Ocean

James P. M. Syvitski and John D. Milliman
The Journal of Geology
Vol. 115, No. 1 (January 2007), pp. 1-19
DOI: 10.1086/509246
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/509246
Page Count: 19
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Geology, Geography, and Humans Battle for Dominance over the Delivery of Fluvial Sediment to the Coastal Ocean
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Abstract

Abstract Sediment flux to the coastal zone is conditioned by geomorphic and tectonic influences (basin area and relief), geography (temperature, runoff), geology (lithology, ice cover), and human activities (reservoir trapping, soil erosion). A new model, termed “BQART” in recognition of those factors, accounts for these varied influences. When applied to a database of 488 rivers, the BQART model showed no ensemble over‐ or underprediction, had a bias of just 3% across six orders of magnitude in observational values, and accounted for 96% of the between‐river variation in the long‐term (±30 years) sediment load or yield of these rivers. The geographical range of the 488 rivers covers 63% of the global land surface and is highly representative of global geology, climate, and socioeconomic conditions. Based strictly on geological parameters (basin area, relief, lithology, ice erosion), 65% of the between‐river sediment load is explained. Climatic factors (precipitation and temperature) account for an additional 14% of the variability in global patterns in load. Anthropogenic factors account for an additional 16% of the between‐river loads, although with ever more dams being constructed or decommissioned and socioeconomic conditions and infrastructure in flux, this contribution is temporally variable. The glacial factor currently contributes only 1% of the signal represented by our globally distributed database, but it would be much more important during and just after major glaciations. The BQART model makes possible the quantification of the influencing factors (e.g., climate, basin area, ice cover) within individual basins, to better interpret the terrestrial signal in marine sedimentary records. The BQART model predicts the long‐term flux of sediment delivered by rivers; it does not predict the episodicity (e.g., typhoons, earthquakes) of this delivery.

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