Flooding dynamics in a large low-gradient alluvial fan, the Okavango Delta, Botswana, from analysis and interpretation of a 30-year hydrometric record
The Okavango Delta is a flood-pulsed wetland, which supports a large tourism industry and the subsistence of the local population through the provision of ecosystem services. In order to obtain insight into the influence of various environmental factors on flood propagation and distribution in this system, an analysis was undertaken of a 30-year record of hydrometric data (discharges and water levels) from one of the Delta distributaries. The analysis revealed that water levels and discharges at any given channel site in this distributary are influenced by a complex interplay of flood wave and local rainfall inputs, modified by channel-floodplain interactions, in-channel sedimentation and technical interventions, both at the given site and upstream. Additionally, cyclical variation of channel vegetation due to intermittent nutrient loading, possibly sustained by nutrient recycling, may play a role. It is shown that short and long-term flood dynamics are mainly due to variation in floodplain flows. As a consequence, discharge data collected within the main channels of distributaries do not adequately represent flooding dynamics in the system. The paper contributes to the understanding of seasonal and long-term flood pulsing and their variation in low gradient systems of channels and floodplains.