Geomorphic responses of lower Bega River to catchment disturbance, 1851-1926

Andrew P. Brooks*, Gary J. Brierley

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    150 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Prior to significant European settlement of the area in the 1850s, lower Bega River on the South Coast of NSW had a narrow, relatively deep channel lined by river oaks. The river had a suspended or mixed load, with platypus habitat available in pools. Banks were fine-grained and relatively cohesive (silts and clays), as was the floodplain, which graded to a series of valley-marginal swamps and lakes. Extensive evidence from maps and portion plans, archival photographs, bridge surveys, and anecdotal sources, complemented by field analysis of floodplain sedimentology (including radiocarbon-dated samples) and vegetation remnants are used to document the dramatic metamorphosis in the character and behaviour of lower Bega River in the latter half of the nineteenth century. By 1926 the channel had widened extensively (up to 340%) and shallowed in association with bed aggradation by coarse sandy bedload. Floodplain accretion was dominated by fine to medium sands, with some coarse sand splays. In contrast with most other studies of channel metamorphosis in Australia, which have emphasised river responses to climatically-induced flood histories, relegating human impacts to a secondary role, the profound changes to the geomorpnic condition and behaviour of Bega River reflect indirect human disturbance of Bega catchment, and direct but non point source disturbance to the channel. Extensive clearance of catchment, floodplain, and channel-marginal vegetation occurred within a few decades of European settlement, altering the hydrologic and sediment regime of the river, and transforming the geomorphic effectiveness of floods. Although this study is situated in a relatively sensitive, granitic catchment, catchment clearance is likely to have induced equally significant responses in many other river systems in eastern Australia. In some instances the diffuse aspects of human disturbance on landscapes induce impacts on river character that are just as profound as major direct disturbances of river channels. This may have profound implications in understanding, and hence managing, the geomorphic consequences of river behaviour in Australia and elsewhere.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)291-304
    Number of pages14
    JournalGeomorphology
    Volume18
    Issue number3-4
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 1997

    Keywords

    • basin management
    • fluvial environment
    • human impact
    • human influence
    • land use
    • New South Wales

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