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Assessment of basin-scale soil erosion within the Congo River Basin: A review

Mushi, C.A., Ndomba, P.M., Trigg, M.A., Tshimanga, R.M., Mtalo, F.
Catena 2019 v.178 pp. 64-76
Landsat, basins, chemical degradation, humans, landscapes, nutrients, organic matter, remote sensing, rivers, sediment transport, sediments, sheet erosion, surface water, topsoil, watersheds, Republic of the Congo
This study uses the Global Assessment of Soil Degradation (GLASOD) to map sediment sources and erosion process types within the Congo Basin as part of a scoping study to guide a basin wide sedimentation study. The GLASOD map is validated using information from literature and published sediment concentration data at the Brazzaville gauging station, which includes over 95% of the basin area. Validation is complemented by analysis of timelapse satellite images and surface water transition maps derived from Landsat images. The upper catchments are shown to be the main sources of sediment, with the largest exporter by quantity being the Upper Congo sub-basin followed by the Kasai. In terms of severity, the Kasai has the highest specific sediment production rates at 8.92 t/km2/year, followed by the Sangha and Upper Congo at 8.52 t/km2/year and 7.61 t/km2/year, respectively. The dominant erosion/degradation type is the loss of topsoil through water erosion (sheet erosion), occurring in 32% of the entire Congo Basin area, followed by loss of nutrients and organic matter through chemical degradation, 21% of area. The mapping also shows that a large proportion of the Basin (39%) consists of stable terrain under natural conditions, without any human induced erosion. The erosion levels in the Basin are generally low with the predominant mapped erosion processes occurring mostly infrequently and with low levels of severity. The GLASOD map performs satisfactorily as a tool for mapping erosion sources and process types, but fails to explain the process dynamics within the sub-basins, for example, the high sediment exportation rates published for the Sangha sub-basin despite consisting mainly of stable natural terrain (84%). Analysis of satellite images shows an increase in sediment concentration in the Congo River's waters over the years. However, this temporal increase in sediment concentration is neither reflected in the GLASOD map nor the quantitative studies reviewed for this paper, pointing to the urgent need for future research on sediment dynamics in the Basin. Questions are also raised on the roles of the Malebo Pool and Cuvette Centrale in the sediment transport processes of the Basin. The questions raised, and observations made from this study have been used to identify strategic sampling sites for further field studies.