Changes in the rates of floodplain and in-channel bench accretion in response to catchment disturbance, central Queensland, Australia
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Analysis of the changes in rates of catchment sediment storage can provide material evidence of the impact of landscape disturbance on catchment sediment flux. A number of studies have suggested increased sediment yields from the rivers draining to the Great Barrier Reef since European settlement in the mid-nineteenth century. Many of these predictions, which indicate increases between four to ten times the pre-disturbance estimates, are based on large-scale catchment modelling that make some critical assumptions about pre-disturbance erosion rates and/or sediment delivery ratios. In addition, the majority have not been validated by empirical data. This study uses single-grain OSL dating and 137Cs depth profiles to determine pre- and post-floodplain accretion rates in Theresa Creek, a subcatchment of the dry-tropical Fitzroy River basin. We demonstrate that floodplain accretion rates have increased by three to four times since European settlement (ca. A.D. 1850). Decreased rates of floodplain accretion since the mid-twentieth century at sites contributed to by gullied terrain suggest a decrease in the supply of sediment derived from gully networks. In contrast, floodplain accretion rates from areas dominated by cultivation remain high. Widespread in-channel benches deposited since European settlement are stable and appear to be important stores of large volumes of sediment. Low magnitude increases in post-disturbance floodplain sedimentation rates (3 to 4 times), in comparison to those reported from mainly temperate climates (10 to 100 times), are attributed to the naturally high sediment loads typical of dry-tropical catchments. Consequently, previous predictions of large post-disturbance increases in sediment yields from large dry-tropical catchments draining to the Great Barrier Reef are likely to be overestimates.