Suspended Sediment Load Estimation in a Severely Eroded and Data Poor Catchment

Laura Bannatyne*, Ian Foster, Kate Rowntree, Bennie van der Waal

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


    Soil erosion rates are high in many parts of Southern Africa, and are likely to rise because of climate change. Suspended sediment loads (SSL) and yields (SSY) are used to measure and benchmark soil erosion and/or sediment transport rates and determine trajectories of change. Some modelled SSY are available for Southern African catchments, but there is a dearth of contemporary observed data. Northern hemisphere approaches to suspended sediment measurement and the calculation of loads and yields are often unsuited to Southern Africa: locally appropriate methods are required. The manual, flood-focused suspended sediment sampling programme that we implemented in the eroded and data-scarce Tsitsa River catchment (Eastern Cape, South Africa) monitored four sub-catchments from December 2015 to June 2019 at a sub-daily timestep. We used a discharge-weighted interpolation SSL estimator, investigating the effects of catchment area, hydrological regime, and sampling strategy on SSL, SSY, and variability, comparing our estimates with modelled results. Discharge increased with catchment area whilst flashiness (expressed by the Richards-Baker Flashiness Index) mainly decreased, and was similar to that of North American catchments. The sampling frequency required to maintain precision was inversely related to catchment area. Mean annual SSL ranged from 18 121 t year−1 in the 204 km2 Gqukunqa River catchment to 984 267 t year−1 in the 1452 km2 Inxu River catchment. Mean annual SSY ranged from 61 t km2 year−1 in the 432 km2 Pot River catchment to 678 t km2 year−1 in the Inxu River catchment. Data stratification to limit sampling to wet-season flows did not significantly impact SSL estimates, but year-round sampling is required to maintain the citizen-technician sampling network through regular income. Modelled SSY estimates were higher than our measured estimates. Our approach to suspended sediment sampling, load and yield estimation is robust, sustainable, precise, and can be adapted for similar, remote catchments.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere14730
    JournalHydrological Processes
    Issue number11
    Early online date14 Nov 2022
    Publication statusPublished - 14 Nov 2022


    • citizen technicians
    • hydrological variability
    • load and yield estimation
    • manual sampling
    • suspended sediment


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