Palaeohydrology of lowland rivers in the Murray-Darling Basin, Australia

Paul P. Hesse*, Rory Williams, Timothy J. Ralph, Kirstie A. Fryirs, Zacchary T. Larkin, Kira E. Westaway, Will Farebrother

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    20 Citations (Scopus)


    This study derives a new function describing the relationship of channel bankfull discharge (Qbf) to channel width in modern rivers of the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) of southeastern Australia and applies this to dated palaeochannels of seven rivers to quantify late Quaternary discharge history in this important basin. All rivers show high MIS3 and MIS2 Qbf, declining in the Holocene. The Qbf of modern MDB rivers is correlated with total catchment precipitation but comparison with palaeochannel Qbf estimates shows that while enhanced runoff efficiency is necessary to account for much larger late Pleistocene palaeochannels, either lower or higher precipitation rates could have prevailed. A strong association between relative palaeo- Qbf enhancement and temperature suggests a temperature-mediated mechanism controlling river discharge, such as the fraction of precipitation stored as snow and thawing in spring, the enhancement of orographic rainfall, or CO2 feedbacks with vegetation cover. Significantly enhanced MIS3 Qbf requires an additional mechanism, such as increased rainfall. These findings are consistent with others that increased moisture availability was associated with past colder climates, although this was not necessarily the result of enhanced precipitation.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)85-105
    Number of pages21
    JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2018


    • Monsoon
    • Palaeochannel
    • Palaeoclimatology
    • Quaternary
    • River evolution
    • Westerlies


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