• Non-ICIMOD Publication
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Present to Future Sediment Transport of the Brahmaputra River: Reducing Uncertainty in Predictions and Management

  • Fischer, S.
  • Pietron, J.
  • Bring, A.
  • Thorslund, J.
  • Jarsjö, J.

The Brahmaputra River in South Asia carries one of the world’s highest sediment loads, and the sediment transport dynamics strongly affect the region’s ecology and agriculture. However, present understanding of sediment conditions and dynamics is hindered by limited access to hydrological and geomorphological data, which impacts predictive models needed in management. We here synthesize reported peer-reviewed data relevant to sediment transport and perform a sensitivity analysis to identify sensitive and uncertain parameters, using the one-dimensional model HEC-RAS, considering both present and future climatic conditions. Results showed that there is considerable uncertainty in openly available estimates (260–720 Mt yr-1) of the annual sediment load for the Brahmaputra River at its downstream Bahadurabad gauging station (Bangladesh). This may aggravate scientific impact studies of planned power plant and reservoir construction in the region, as well as more general effects of ongoing land use change and climate change. We found that data scarcity on sediment grain size distribution, water discharge, and Manning’s roughness coefficient had the strongest controls on the modelled sediment load. However, despite uncertainty in absolute loads, we showed that predicted relative changes, including a future increase in sediment load by about 40 % at Bahadurabad by 2075–2100, were consistent across multiple model simulations. Nevertheless, for the future scenarios we found that parameter uncertainty almost doubled for water discharge and river geometry, highlighting that improved information on these parameters could greatly advance the abilities to predict and manage current and future sediment dynamics in the Brahmaputra river basin.

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