Articles | Volume 9, issue 8
Research article
02 Aug 2012
Research article |  | 02 Aug 2012

Distribution and origin of suspended matter and organic carbon pools in the Tana River Basin, Kenya

F. Tamooh, K. Van den Meersche, F. Meysman, T. R. Marwick, A. V. Borges, R. Merckx, F. Dehairs, S. Schmidt, J. Nyunja, and S. Bouillon

Abstract. We studied patterns in organic carbon pools and their origin in the Tana River Basin (Kenya), in February 2008 (dry season), September–November 2009 (wet season), and June–July 2010 (end of wet season), covering the full continuum from headwater streams to lowland mainstream sites. A consistent downstream increase in total suspended matter (TSM, 0.6 to 7058 mg l−1 and particulate organic carbon (POC, 0.23 to 119.8 mg l−1 was observed during all three sampling campaigns, particularly pronounced below 1000 m above sea level, indicating that most particulate matter exported towards the coastal zone originated from the mid and low altitude zones rather than from headwater regions. This indicates that the cascade of hydroelectrical reservoirs act as an extremely efficient particle trap. Although 7Be / 210Pbxs ratios/age of suspended sediment do not show clear seasonal variation, the gradual downstream increase of suspended matter during end of wet season suggests its origin is caused by inputs of older sediments from bank erosion and/or river sediment resuspension. During wet season, higher TSM concentrations correspond with relatively young suspended matter, suggesting a contribution from recently eroded material. With the exception of reservoir waters, POC was predominantly of terrestrial origin as indicated by generally high POC : chlorophyll a (POC : Chl a) ratios (up to ~41 000). Stable isotope signatures of POC (δ13CPOC ranged between −32 and −20‰ and increased downstream, reflecting an increasing contribution of C4-derived carbon in combination with an expected shift in δ13C for C3 vegetation towards the more semi-arid lowlands. δ13C values in sediments from the main reservoir (−19.5 to −15.7‰) were higher than those found in any of the riverine samples, indicating selective retention of particles associated with C4 fraction. Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations were highest during the end of wet season (2.1 to 6.9 mg l−1), with stable isotope signatures generally between −28 and −22‰. A consistent downstream decrease in % organic carbon (%OC) was observed for soils, riverine sediments, and suspended matter. This was likely due to better preservation of the organic fraction in colder high altitude regions, with loss of carbon during downstream spiraling. δ13C values for soil and sediment did not exhibit clear altitudinal patterns, but values reflect the full spectrum from C3-dominated to C4-dominated sites. Very low ratios of organic carbon to mineral surface area (OC : SA) were found in reservoir sediments and suspended matter in the lower Tana River, indicating that these are stable OC pools which have undergone extensive degradation. Overall, our study demonstrates that substantial differences occur in both the quantities and origin of suspended sediments and organic carbon along the river profile in this tropical river basin, as well as seasonal differences in the mechanisms causing such variations.

Final-revised paper