Articles | Volume 15, issue 6
Research article
21 Mar 2018
Research article |  | 21 Mar 2018

A comprehensive biogeochemical record and annual flux estimates for the Sabaki River (Kenya)

Trent R. Marwick, Fredrick Tamooh, Bernard Ogwoka, Alberto V. Borges, François Darchambeau, and Steven Bouillon

Abstract. Inland waters impart considerable influence on nutrient cycling and budget estimates across local, regional and global scales, whilst anthropogenic pressures, such as rising populations and the appropriation of land and water resources, are undoubtedly modulating the flux of carbon (C), nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) between terrestrial biomes to inland waters, and the subsequent flux of these nutrients to the marine and atmospheric domains. Here, we present a 2-year biogeochemical record (October 2011–December 2013) at biweekly sampling resolution for the lower Sabaki River, Kenya, and provide estimates for suspended sediment and nutrient export fluxes from the lower Sabaki River under pre-dam conditions, and in light of the approved construction of the Thwake Multipurpose Dam on its upper reaches (Athi River). Erratic seasonal variation was typical for most parameters, with generally poor correlation between discharge and material concentrations, and stable isotope values of C (δ13C) and N (δ15N). Although high total suspended matter (TSM) concentrations are reported here (up to ∼ 3.8 g L−1), peak concentrations of TSM rarely coincided with peak discharge. The contribution of particulate organic C (POC) to the TSM pool indicates a wide biannual variation in suspended sediment load from OC poor (0.3 %) to OC rich (14.9 %), with the highest %POC occurring when discharge is < 100 m3 s−1 and at lower TSM concentrations. The consistent 15N enrichment of the particulate nitrogen (PN) pool compared to other river systems indicates anthropogenic N loading is a year-round driver of N export from the Sabaki Basin. The lower Sabaki River was consistently oversaturated in dissolved methane (CH4; from 499 to 135 111 %) and nitrous oxide (N2O; 100 to 463 %) relative to atmospheric concentrations. Wet season flows (October–December and March–May) carried > 80 % of the total load for TSM (∼ 86 %), POC (∼ 89 %), dissolved organic carbon (DOC; ∼ 81 %), PN (∼ 89 %) and particulate phosphorus (TPP; ∼ 82 %), with > 50 % of each fraction exported during the long wet season (March–May). Our estimated sediment yield (85 Mg km−2 yr−1) is relatively low on the global scale and is considerably less than the recently reported average sediment yield of ∼ 630 Mg km−2 yr−1 for African river basins. Regardless, sediment and OC yields were all at least equivalent or greater than reported yields for the neighbouring dammed Tana River. Rapid pulses of heavily 13C-enriched POC coincided with peak concentrations of PN, ammonium, CH4 and low dissolved oxygen saturation, suggesting that large mammalian herbivores (e.g. hippopotami) may mediate the delivery of C4 organic matter to the river during the dry season. Given recent projections for increasing dissolved nutrient export from African rivers, as well as the planned damming of the Athi River, these first estimates of material fluxes from the Sabaki River provide base-line data for future research initiatives assessing anthropogenic perturbation of the Sabaki Basin.

Short summary
A 2-year biogeochemical record provides annual sediment and element flux estimates for the non-dammed Sabaki River, Kenya, establishing a baseline for future research in light of impending construction of the first major upstream reservoir. Over 80 % of material fluxes occur across the wet season, with annual yields comparable to the adjacent, and dammed, Tana River. Observations at low-flow periods suggest large mammalian herbivores may be vectors of terrestrial subsidies to the water column.
Final-revised paper