Sediment yield and impacts from river catchments to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon
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Land use intensification is estimated to result in an overall increase in sediment delivery to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon by a factor of approximately four. Modelling suggests that, following land use intensification, croplands cause the greatest increase of sediment yield and sediment concentration, whereas erosion of grazing land is the main contemporary source of sediments, primarily owing to the large spatial extent of this land use. The spatial pattern of sediment yield to the coast after land use intensification is strongly correlated with the pattern under natural conditions, although the greatest increase is estimated to have occurred in the wet-dry catchments. Sediment transport and resuspension processes have led to the development of a strongly sediment-partitioned shelf, with modern mud-rich sediments almost exclusively restricted to the inner and inner-middle shelf, northward-facing embayments and in the lee of headlands. Elevated sediment concentrations increase the potential transport rates of nutrients and other pollutants. Whether increased sediment supply to the coastal zone has impacted on reefs remains a point of contention. More sediment load data need to be collected and analysed in order to make detailed estimates of catchment yields and establish the possible sediment impact on the Great Barrier Reef.
Marine and Freshwater Research