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Assessing the impacts of climate change and dams on floodplain inundation and wetland connectivity in the wet–dry tropics of northern Australia

Karim, Fazlul, Dutta, Dushmanta, Marvanek, Steve, Petheram, Cuan, Ticehurst, Catherine, Lerat, Julien, Kim, Shaun, Yang, Ang
Journal of hydrology 2015 v.522 pp. 80-94
algorithms, climate change, ecology, floodplains, hydrodynamics, hydrologic models, moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer, radar, rain, rivers, runoff, satellites, streams, topography, tropics, watersheds, wetlands, Australia
Floodplain wetlands and their hydrological connectivity with main river channels in the Australian wet–dry tropics are under increasing pressure from global climate change and water resource development, and there is a need for modelling tools to estimate the time dynamics of connectivity. This paper describes an integrated modelling framework combining conceptual rainfall–runoff modelling, river system modelling and hydrodynamic (HD) modelling to estimate hydrological connectivity between wetlands and rivers in the Flinders and Gilbert river catchments in northern Australia. Three historical flood events ranging from a mean annual flood to a 35-year return period flood were investigated using a two dimensional HD model (MIKE 21). Inflows from upstream catchments were estimated using a river network model. Local runoff within the HD modelling domain was simulated using the Sacramento rainfall–runoff model. The Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) derived 30m DEM was used to reproduce floodplain topography, stream networks and wetlands in the HD model. The HD model was calibrated using stream gauge data and inundation maps derived from satellite (MODIS: MODerate resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) imagery. An algorithm was developed to combine the simulated water heights with the DEM to quantify inundation and flow connection between wetlands and rivers. The connectivity of 18 ecologically important wetlands on the Flinders floodplain and 7 on the Gilbert floodplain were quantified. The impacts of climate change and water resource development on connectivity to individual wetlands were assessed under a projected dry climate (2nd driest of 15 GCMs), wet climate (2nd wettest of 15 GCMs) and dam conditions. The results indicate that changes in rainfall under a wetter and drier future climate could have large impacts on area, duration and frequency of inundation and connectivity. Topographic relief, river bank elevation and flood magnitude were found to be the key factors contributing to the level of connectivity. Under a wetter future climate the average duration of connection of wetlands to the main river channel increased by 7% and under a drier climate it decreased by 18%. Construction of a 248GL dam in the Flinders catchment and two (498 and 271GL capacity) in the Gilbert catchment could reduce the average duration of connectivity by 1% and 2% in the Flinders and Gilbert catchments respectively. This information is potentially useful to future studies on the flood-dependent ecology in this region.