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S.K. Lahiri / South East Asian Journal of Sedimentary Basin Research 1 (2013) 80-89

Laws of erosion in Majuli: A statistical approach on GIS based data

Siddhartha Kumar Lahiri a,b*
a b

Department of Applied Geology, Dibrugarh University, Dibrugarh 786004, India Engineering Geosciences Group, Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur 208016, India _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Majuli, the largest riverine island in the world having human habitation (Population: 0.16 million), located in the upper reach of the Brahmaputra valley of Assam and the abode of Vaishnavite spiritual centres called Satras(around 64) has eroded as per our measurement at an average rate of 3.1 km2/yr during the period 1915-2005. In 1915, the area of the island was 787.9 km2 which became 508.2 km2 in 2005. This amounts to 35.5% planform reduction. Unlike other braid bar deposits, Majuli is not a direct outcome of the river sedimentology. The Majuli type situations are very often a response of structurally controlled geomorphic highs in the valleys to the lateral bank migration of the rivers. However, after it comes inside a channel belt, the river processes as well as the captured highland, both influence each other. The highland posses as an impediment, reducing thereby the stream power of the channel. The river on the other hand, erodes the land steadily but unevenly. This mutual interaction influences the braid bars, channel geometry and some related geomorphic parameters of the river regime. Majuli is fast eroding, but is it eroding uniformly? Is there any relationship between the erosion of the Majuli and the adjoining braid bars? What is the nature of sediment load distribution orchestrated by the river regime? Is there any change in the aggradation-degradation trend in the neighbourhood of the Majuli Island? There is a knowledge gap relating the nature of unevenness in the erosion of the Majuli Island in planform. The present work deals with three major issues. First, quantification of the plano-temporal changes of a few geomorphic parameters like areas of channel belt (CHB),braid bar (BB), channel (CH), average width of the channel (W), right bank (RB) and left bank (LB) line migration in 13 number of reaches covering the channel belt bearing the Majuli Island between two consecutive periods 1915-1975 and 1975-2005. Secondly, assuming relative change in erosion of the Majuli Island (ME) is correlatable with changes in different geomorphic parameters mentioned above, we have used the method of least squares to find out the empirical equations which are highly constrained by place and time. It is observed that a set of second order parabola equations which we have argued as Laws of erosion in Majuli can relate the percentage rate of erosion of the Majuli Island with the above mentioned six parameters. Thirdly, erosion of Majuli might influence the aggradationary tendency, if any, in the neighbourhood of the Majuli Island. Accordingly, we have investigated the influence of Majuli erosion (ME) on Braid bar density variation in the planform (BB) as well as on BB/CH. We find that increasing erosion of Majuli witnesses side by side a growing tendency in the braid bar formation, more so in the lower part of the island. Moreover, this also shows that the eroded material is not getting transported in the further downstream side rather the aggradationary tendency has sharply increased in the adjacent areas of the lower Majuli over the last four decades compared to the earlier period. Keywords: Geomorphic high, Aggradation, Plano-temporal change, Method of least squares _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

1. Introduction Three mountain fed rivers, the Siang, the Dibang and the Lohit confluence in the upper tip of a narrow valley to form another river, one of the large tropical rivers of the world (Hovius, 1998; Latrubesse et al., 2005; Tandon and Sinha, 2007), the Brahmaputra which has drawn the attention of some of the finest scientists (Bristow, 1987; Goswami, 1985; Curray, 1994; Goodbred and Kuehl, 1998, 2000; Richardson and Thorne, 2001; Goodbred et al.,2003; Sarma and Phukan, 2004,2006; Kotoky et al., 2005; Sarma, 2005) ever since Coleman (1969) published his seminal work on the channel processes and sedimentation of the river. Studies related to fluvial dynamics and landform evolution attained a heightened interest as the role of tectonics was increasingly appreciated (Holbrook and Schumm, 1999) to influence the morphology and migration characteristics of a river. In the upper Assam valley, where Brahmaputra originates and subsequently acts as a valley divider, the channel belt of the river includes a number of islands of different shapes and sizes. Among these, some of the islands are constituted of much older flood plain

deposits and that means older than the river at the place of study and rest are the islands which came into being as a direct consequence of the river architecture where the alluvium is constituted of very recent flood plain deposits (ages in decadal or century scale) and of course these are much younger than the age of the river at its present location. The first one is Majuli-type and the second one is Char type. Majuli type situations come into existence due to the river dynamics and Char type situations arise due to hydro dynamics and sediment transportation characteristics of the river. Thus the history of human habitation for a Majuli type land area might be older than the river flowing around it whereas the habitation history of the Char type areas must have started much recently. The old Majuli, which is presently located between Jorhat town in the south bank and North Lakhimpur town in the north bank of the Brahmaputra River has witnessed a surge in erosion rate from 2.46 km2/yr during1915-1975 to 4.40 km2/yr during1975-2005.

* Corresponding author at: Department of Applied Geology, Dibrugarh University,

Dibrugarh 786004, India. Tel.: +91 373 2370247; fax: +91 373 2370323. E-mail address: (S.K. Lahiri).


S.K. Lahiri / South East Asian Journal of Sedimentary Basin Research 1 (2013) 80-89

Fig. 1. Location map of the Majuli Island shown (A) inside India and (B) upper reach of the Brahmaputra valley. (C) the study area is divided into thirteen number of smaller second order reaches. Place abbreviations are, Jo-Jorhat; Si-Sibsagar; NL-North Lakhimpur; DhDhemaji; Di-Dibrugarh; Ti-Tinsukia.

As the Majuli Island acts as the cultural and religious head quarter of a sizable population of the valley, the fear of its extinction has gripped recently the minds of the inhabitants as well as those who are psychologically linked to the place. There is a central question-will Majuli erode completely in the near future? But before that question is addressed this is good to ask how well do we know about the trend of erosion in Majuli? Does Majuli erode uniformly? Does erosion of Majuli mean areal expansion of the channel bearing zone of the Brahmaputra channel belt? Is there any connection between the formation of new braid bars and the erosion of the Majuli? What is the status of the Brahmaputra river in the neighbourhood of the Majuli island in terms of the variation in the braid bar and channel area ratio? In the present work, first of all, we have documented in detail the measurements of plano-temporal variations in some of the geomorphic parameters like average width (W), magnitudes of left bank (LB) and right bank (RB) migration of the river over the period 1915-2005, relative changes in the areas of the channel belt (CHB), channel (CH), braid bar (BB) and then BB/CH ratios for different sub units of the Majuli bearing zone of the Brahmaputra channel belt. Secondly, we have related mathematically the erosion of the Majuli Island with all the

aforesaid parameters making a simple assumption that the rate of erosion of Majuli is expressible as a function of different geomorphic parameters associated with it and expressed them in terms of Laws of erosion in Majuli. Thirdly, we have also tried to investigate the trend of variation in the braid bar areas and the BB/CH ratio as a function of the erosion of the Majuli Island. Thus, in the present work, instead of isolating Majuli, we have nurtured the concept of Riverscape-landscape duality to understand the dynamics of Majuli and its neighbourhood.

2. The study area The present study area that includes the Majuli of 1915, is situated (Fig.1) between the longitudes 93024/-950 and latitudes 270-27015/. If we put Majuli at the centre of our observation, the N-NW side is bordered by the frontal thrust belt (HFT) of the eastern Himalayas and S-SE side is bordered by the Naga Thrust of the Naga Patkai Thrust belt (NPT). In the extreme south west corner there is Mikir hills. The Brahmaputra River, after travelling a more or less straight path along NE-SW, suddenly takes a westward turn as if to


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bypass the Mikir hills. The geo-tectonic setting of the Majuli Island shows that the place is situated between the Bouguer gravity anomaly contours 220-240 mGal and first order basement depth contours 3.6-5.0 km (Narula et al., 2000). It clearly shows a prominent Low in the NW part of the Majuli Island. A first order tectonogeomorphic zonation of the intermontane valley reach that divides the area into three types respectively, uplift, slope and depression, puts the Majuli Island on the Lower central uplift(Lahiri and Sinha, 2012). 3. Method & approach To understand the nature of the recent morphological changes around the Majuli Island area, the 23.5m resolution IRS-P6LISS-3 image, taken on 15 December 2005, was compared to the topographic maps prepared during 1912-1926 seasons having scale 1: 253,440 and 1977 (scale: 1:250,000) topographic map of the Survey of India. The standard methods of digitization, image to image registration by selecting proper Ground Control Points (GCPs) and ground verification were followed using ERDAS software for co-registration of all data. We have divided the Majuli bearing channel belt of the Brahmaputra River into 13 smaller reaches chosen arbitrarily varying in reach lengths 4.5-8.5km. The arbitrariness in the choice of the reaches does not matter because we are interested in the percentage change in unit areas. The advantage is, we can assign local names to different reaches which are easily recognisable for common usage. In the present work, we are principally interested to understand the connections among different planform geomorphic parameters so that possibilities of engineering interventions can be explored on a more rational approach. It is in this context, three things need better clarification. These are about natural laws and planform fluvial dynamics, method of least squares and physical significance of curve fitting. 3.1. Natural laws and planform fluvial dynamics Fluvial dynamics obey certain natural laws. Nobody contests that. The problem is how to find out that law. In the common philosophical understanding, carried forward by the philosophers particularly the stoics like Cicero, the natural laws are supposed to be immutable, eternal and universal and free from divinity or any other kind of ethical connotation which was prevalent during the days of Aristotle (Shellens, 1959). Ever since the development of quantum theory, laws of nature were recognised as merely probable, not universal, linking different physical quantities. The element of eternity in natural laws assumes an overall causal regularity which enables the observer to predict accurately. The element of eternity fails to explain the abrupt changes like accidents as well as the process of initiation. The understanding that the ascent of relationships among different physical quantities from the plane of hypothesis theory law, as if something unalterable, is questioned by Karl Popper (1959). According to Popper, if a theory cannot be falsified, it is not scientific. He proposes the growth in scientific knowledge as PS1TT1EE1PS2. Thus, in response to a problem

situation (PS), a number of competing conjectures or tentative theories (TT) are proposed which are systematically subjected to rigorous attempts of falsification that result into error elimination (EE) which in turn, result into more interesting problem situations (PS1 to PS2). Thus, Popper rejects classical empiricism which was responsible for the classical observationalist-inductivist account of scientific methodology. Popper described his philosophy as critical rationalism. In our present discussion, we have adopted the Popperian sense of understanding to define the Laws of planform fluvial dynamics. These laws are valid only within strictly defined boundary conditions, temporal as well as spatial. 3.2. Method of least squares Between two sets of correlatable variables, if we know which one is independent variable, then the respective changes can be plotted which will give us a distribution pattern. Next, we can have a straight line through this maze of points to assign a simple character to this distribution. There are many possibilities of slope variations as well as the magnitudes of intercepts. The distance by which any arbitrary point lies away from the line is the amount of misfit. If we square all these misfits and sum up, the situation for which we get the least value, is taken as the best fit solution for the problem. This is known as the Method of least squares, the credit for which goes jointly to Legendre (1805) and Gauss (1809).There can be ordinary least squares (linear) or non linear least squares. In the present work, we have applied linear as well as non linear method of least squares and tried to fit polynomial equations of the type, Y = A + BX + CX2 If the contribution of the last coefficient is too small, we have neglected it. Obviously, for the linear curve fit, the equation considered is of the type, Y = A + BX. We have considered two types of situations. In the first type, the rate of erosion of the Majuli Island in different reaches [that is, {(old area new area)/old area}100] was treated as a dependent variable and the geomorphic parameters like CHB, BB,CH, W, LB, RB were taken as independent variables. In the second type, we have tested the percentage variations in BB and BB/CH as the dependent variable whereas the rate of erosion of the Majuli Island as the independent variable. 3.3. Physical significance of curve fitting Any multi variable phenomenon, as a time series or planform projection of variability, when subjected to forcings of different orders, we get curves which are commonly known as wiggle traces. The curve fitting technique helps us to identify as well as isolate different orders of events expressed in simple sinusoidal mode of expression. Secondly, curves representing phenomenon can be extrapolated as well as interpolated. Thus, if the sampling interval is large, we can know what happened between two points of observation.


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Extrapolation helps to predict the future if we are dealing with a time series data. 4. Results and interpretation 4.1. Reach scale erosion of the Majuli Island In this section, we would like to describe a few specific observations during 1915-2005 relating the nature of planotemporal changes observed for 13 different reaches of the Brahmaputra channel belt (Fig. 2) which include Majuli, char areas (BB) and the water bearing channels (CH). The elevation difference between Reach-1 (88m above the mean sea level or msl) and Reach-13 (73m above the msl) is 15m.

4.1.1. Reach 1: Tekeliphuta This reach having a length of 4.7 km shows that it reduced from 14.2 km2 in 1915 to 6.8 km2 in 1975 and in 2005 it was simply nonexistent. During 1915-2005, the average width of the channel belt increased by 3.1%. New braid bar formation increased tremendously. From about 10 km2 in 1915, it became 23.6 km2 in 2005 and that amounts to 134% increase. BB/CH during the above said duration of ninety years shows a remarkable rise of about 76%. Thus in spite of the erosion of the Majuli Island, the reach in general was showing massive aggradation. 4.1.2. Reach 2: Ratanpur-Sonoal Kachari gaon Reach location: 2700354 - 2700545.6 lat and 9402652.8 9403028.8 long. Reach length: 8.36 km. Average elevation : 86m above the msl. During 1915-1975, the Majuli Island reduced by 25% whereas with respect to 1975, the area reduced by about 54% as measured in 2005. The erosion was mainly in the southern part of the island where Sonoal Kachari gaon is located. For the whole period 1915-2005, the reduction was about 65%. The average width of the channelbelt during the same period increased from 11.57 km to 12.21 km (5.5% growth) and mainly the left bank of the river was migrating. Braid bar area increased by about 131%. Channel bearing area also increased by about 96%. Thus, effectively, in spite of unabated erosion of the Majuli Island, BB/CH ratio increased within the channel belt indicating effective aggradation. 4.1.3. Reach 3: Maj-Deurigaon-Dighaligaon Reach location: 2700137.2-2700354 lat and 94022309402652.8 long. Reach length: 8.4km. Average elevation: 85m above the msl. Average width of the channel belt increased from 15.88km in 1915 to 16.81km in 2005 and that means about 5.86% growth. Majuli reduced by about 31% during 1915-2005. Channel area increased by 96% whereas the braid bar area increased by 45%. Thus, the BB/CH area reduced considerably (-26%), indicating degradation. 4.1.4. Reach 4: Kumarbari- Jengraimukh-Gayangaon Reach location: 2605931.2- 2700137.2 lat and 9401825.29402230 long. Reach length: 6.37km. Average elevation: 85m above the msl. Interestingly, in this reach, average width of the channel belt has decreased over time from 23.11km in 1915 to 21.93km in 1975 and then again a slight increase to 22.54km in 2005. Thus for the overall period 1915-2005, there is a narrowing of about 2.5%. The magnitude of erosion also shows a declining trend from about 11% during 19151975 to 3.38% during 1975-2005. BB/CH ratio shows a highly fluctuating trend from 1.72 in 1915 to 0.61 in 1975 and then again shooting sharply upward to 2.0 in 2005. This shows an overall aggradation.

Fig. 2. Reach scale plano temporal variation in the Majuli bearing Brahmaputra during (A) 1915, (B) 1975 and (C) 2005.


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4.1.5. Reach 5: Baruigaon-Domgaon Reach location: 2605757.6- 2605931.2 lat and 9401521.69401825.2 long. Reach length: 5.41km. Average elevation: 85m above the msl. In this reach too, the average width shows an overall declining trend during 1915-2005 of about 3.2%. For the same period, the erosion of the Majuli is also least and is about 0.32%. BB/CH ratio shot up from 3.7% during 19151975 to 54.8% during 1975-2005 indicating recent increase in aggradation. 4.1.6. Reach 6: Garmur Bar Sattra-Kamalabari Reach location: 2605631.2- 2605757.6 lat and 94012369401521.6 long. Reach length: 5.0km. Average elevation: 84m above the msl. This is the singular reach which is not only free from erosion rather the area of Majuli Island expanded by about 9.2% during the period of ninety years (1915-2005). Average width of the channel belt has increased by about 1.4%.The BB/CH has also decreased during the same period by about 6.9% showing degradation. The reverse trend observed in this reach is probably due to the anti erosion measures taken up by the government to protect the most prominent of the Satras. 4.1.7. Reach 7: Kalakhowagaon Reach location: 260551.2-2605631.2 lat and 9400946.89401236 long. Reach length: 5.99km. Average elevation: 82m above the msl. Rate of erosion of the island is 15.8% during 1915-2005. Average width of the stretch is more or less constant. BB/CH shows highest fall of about 39.3% which is an indication that this is the site of degradation. 4.1.8. Reach 8: Goalgaon Reach location: 2605316.8-260551.2 lat and 9400628.89400946.8 long. Reach length: 6.65km. Average elevation: 80m above the msl. During 1915-1975, the rate of erosion was quite severe (38.4%). However, subsequently, the situation has drastically improved. During 1975-2005, this reach shows areal expansion from 33.15 km2 to about 51 km2 (about 54% growth). This is also unique in comparison with the general trend of development and is probably due to the anthropogenic intervention in the form of raising embankments, a very common means adopted by the state agencies to arrest erosion. There was about 46% growth in the BB/CH ratio during 1915-2005, showing aggradation. 4.1.9. Reach 9: Bebejia Kaibartagaon Reach location: 2605154-2605316.8 lat and 9400314.49400628.8 long. Reach length: 5.6km. Average elevation: 80m above the msl. This reach also follows similar trend to that of Reach-8. During 1915-1975 it shows a trend of severe erosion of about 35% which was simply reversed during the later phase showing not only cessation of erosion, rather it expanded by 32%. This is probably due to the planning measures related to controlling the erosion by the state agency. However, in the overall consideration for the period

1915-2005, there was a net erosion of about 15%. The average width of the channel belt was also showing a decreasing trend during 1915-1975 (about 14%), but during 1975-2005, it increased by 18% and for the entire period 1915-2005, the overall situation was just a slight increase of 1.25%. The channel area increased more (by 25.4%) than the braid bar area (about 12%). Thus, BB/CH reduced by about 11% showing degradation. 4.1.10. Reach 10: Michhamara Reach location: 2605042- 2605154 lat and 9305952.89400314.4 long. Reach length: 6.13km. Average elevation: 73m above the msl. This indicates a fall in elevation of 7m from the previous reach. The rate of erosion is very high-25% during 1915-1975 and 68.6% during 1975-2005.The average width of the channel belt decreased by 3.1%. BB/Ch increased by 27.5%, indicating aggradation. 4.1.11. Reach 11: Karaiguri Reach location: 2604926.4- 2605042 lat and 93056249305952.8 long. Reach length: 6.44km. Average elevation: 73m above the msl. The reach suffered tremendous erosion. During 1915-1975, 58% of the area eroded and subsequently 99.7% of the area washed away; leaving behind a very thin lining. The average width of the channel belt had remarkable shrinkage (15%) during 1915-2005. During the same period, braid bars had 39% growth, channel areas had about 80% growth and as a follow up, BB/CH had a fall of about 23%, indicating a zone of degradation. 4.1.12 Reach 12: Ahatguri Reach location: 260483.6- 2604926.4 lat and 9305240.89305624 long. Reach length: 5.94km. During 1915-1975, about 28% of the Majuli Island washed away and subsequently, whole of the area succumbed. The width of the channel belt decreased by about 14% during 1915-2005; BB/CH shows 29% increase indicating thereby aggradation. 4.1.13 Reach 13: Subansirimukh Reach location: 2604640.8- 260483.6 lat and 9304850.49305240.8 long. Reach length: 6.09km. About 61% of Majuli reduced during 1915-1975 and the remaining part collapsed during 1975-2005. The width of the channel belt reduced slightly (about 1%) and BB/CH increased by about 13% during 1915-2005, showing an overall tendency of aggradation.

4.2. General trend of erosion of the Majuli Island The rate and pattern of erosion observed (Fig. 3A-B) in and around the Majuli Island in the last ninety years is very high and diverse. Between 1915 & 1975, the surface area of the island reduced from 787.87 km2 to 640.5km2 (18.7% reduction) and then to 508.2km2 by 2005 (35.5% reduction as


S.K. Lahiri / South East Asian Journal of Sedimentary Basin Research 1 (2013) 80-89

compared to the 1915). The average rate of erosion in the last thirty plus years has increased considerably from 2.46 km2/yr (1915- 1975) to 4.40 km2/yr (1975-2005). The length of this spindle shaped island has also reduced greatly from 79.7 km in 1915 to 75.16 km in 1975 and then 63.33 km in 2005(about 20.5% reduction compared to 1915). If we compare changing geomorphic parameters 1915-1975 (Fig. 3A) with 1975-2005 (Fig. 3B), we have a few interesting observations (Table 1):

It simply shows that the narrower stretches of the channelbelt are more erosion prone. c) Braid bars formed due to the river processes show different types of changes over time like emerging new ones, waning older ones and some of the braid bars remain stable for much longer period. The cumulative braid bar areas (BB) in different reaches (excluding the area covered by the Majuli Island) show an overall decreasing trend of about 9.3% during 1915-1975. However, during 1975-2005, the trend was not only reverse, there seems to be a vigorously progressive tendency of braid bar formation with overall growth rate of 53% and simultaneous increase in severity of erosion of the Majuli Island. Thus, a growth rate of 38.8% observed for BB during the period 1915-2005 is not a continuous growth story rather it includes a complete cycle of high-low-high. The second order polynomial fit law of reduction of the Majuli Island with respect to the changing braid bar areas can be expressed as following (Fig. 4B): ME = 9.777 + 1.405 BB + 0.006463 BB2 d) There is a remarkable shift in the comparative trend of the changing channel area (CH) and the braid bar area (BB). During 1915-1975, they show a more or less opposite trend whereas the overall channel belt area (CHB) was following the similar trend of BB. Also, the average amplitude of CH was higher than both the BB and the CHB. This shows that wherever braid bar deposits increased, the actual channel areas decreased. Moreover, increase in channel belt area was principally due to the increasing area of braid bars. However, during 1975-2005, CH and BB were showing similar trend and BB was maintaining consistently much higher amplitude all along the Majuli Island. As we move downstream, the amplitude difference between BB and CH keeps on increasing, showing a rising trend in aggradation. The BB/CH ratio reduces drastically from 2.34 in 1915 to 1.24 in 1975 and then again 2.49 in 2005. Thus, the overall trend of aggradation has definitely increased during 1915-2005. The second order polynomial fit law of reduction of the Majuli Island with respect to the changing channel areas (CH) can be expressed as following (Fig. 4C): ME = 37.24 + 1.006 CH - 0.008772 CH2 e) The bankline shifts, right and the left with respect to the downstream direction of flow can be correlated with the erosion of the Majuli Island as following(Fig. 4E & 4F): ME ME 45.42 + 17.16 RB + 0.4711 RB2 24.7 1.99 LB + 6.189 LB2

Fig. 3. Quantitative analysis of the geomorphic parameters observed in relation to the temporal variability of planform erosion of the Majuli Island. (A)Absolute changes in the channel belt areas, average widths of different smaller units, cumulative areas of braid bars (Majuli excluded), cumulative channel areas and amount of erosion of the Majuli Island during 1915-1975, (B) same parameters plotted during 1975-2005.


Based on the rate of erosion, Majuli Island can distinctly be divided into three parts - upper, middle and lower Majuli. Middle Majuli is fairly stable compared to the upper and the lower. As expected, the trend of variation in the channel belt areas (CHB) and the average widths (W) show a close similarity and the reduction of the Majuli Island for the period 1915-2005 can be correlated with the second order approximation of the polynomial fit as (Fig. 4A & 4D): ME=36.84 0.7604 CHB + 0.154 CHB2 ME= 33.45 + 0.668 W + 0.3538 W2



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Fig. 4. Application of method of least squares and polynomial curve fitting for the erosion of the Majuli Island during 1915-2005 as a function of changes in the (A) Channel belt area, (B) Cumulative braid bar area change excluding the area of the Majuli Island, (C) Exclusively channel area change, (D) Reach wise changes in the average width of the channel belts, (E) Left bank line shift, (F) Right bank line shift. A scatter plot was prepared in ascending order for the magnitudes of different parameters and second order polynomial curve fitting was done.

Fig. 5. (A) Linear minimum least square relation between the erosion of the Majuli Island and changes in the net area of the braid bars in the immediate neighbourhood. (B) Linear minimum least square relation between the erosion of the Majuli Island and the percentage change in the ration of the areas of braid bars and channels in different reaches.


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The effect of right bankline shift (Fig. 4E) and the left bankline shift (Fig. 4F) show an opposite trend on erosion of Majuli. Right bankline is very close to the western border of Majuli. Over the years, due to the human intervention and migration of the Subansiri River in the further downstream direction, the right bank channel flow has practically stagnated and erosion has also decreased rapidly. Thus, higher discharge accelerates erosion in the right bank and vice versa. On the other hand, when the left bankline moves closer to the Majuli Island, force per unit area of discharge cross section increases and that accelerates erosion of the island. Thus, there is no doubt about it that the erosion of the Majuli Island is principally done by the river laterally. 4.3. Effect of erosion of the Majuli Island on the braid bar formation This is a general expectation that the erosion of the Majuli Island is influencing the nature of braid bar formation in the adjoining channel belt of the Brahmaputra. Accordingly, when we investigate the relation in the form BB = f (ME) and try to fit a straight line, for different time durations, we get straight line equations as following (Fig. 5A): 17.78 + 0.7167 ME (1915-1975) BB = 48.07 + 0.3975 ME (1975-2005) BB = 14.38 + 0.6631 ME (1915-2005) Here, we observe a jump in the distribution pattern of the points from the status during 1915-1975 and 1975-2005. The broader temporal change during 1915-2005 is found to be lying somewhere in the middle. All these curves show a near parallel and increasing general trend showing erosion and new braid bar formation has a positive correlation, more erosion results into increase in the cumulative areas of the braid bars. However, at zero erosion of the Majuli, during 1915-1975, we observe a decay in the changing areas of the braid bars and during 1975-2005, for the identical condition, there was growth. Thus, there must be other factors responsible for the braid bar formations. 4.4. Erosion of the Majuli Island and the aggradationary tendency When the percentage changes in the BB/CH ratio is plotted as a function of the percentage erosion rate of the Majuli Island per unit area, the linear curve fit method gives us the following equations: ( ) 48.47 + 0.576 ME (1915-1975)

of the curves indicates that there is a positive correlation between the increase in the rate of erosion of the Majuli Island and the aggradationary tendency in the corresponding channelbelt reaches. However, the BB/CH over the period 1915-2005 shows a minimal change, albeit with an upward tendency, with increasing rate of erosion. Thirdly, the places where there is no erosion of the Majuli Island; aggradation continues. This shows that there are other causes of aggradation. Fourthly, low slope angle of the straight line indicates even a very high increase in the rate of erosion brings just an incremental change in the BB/CH. Thus, the aggradation is influenced only marginally by the erosion of the Majuli Island. 5. Discussion 5.1 Role of geomorphic parameters in the evolution of the Majuli Island We have related different fluvio-geomorphic parameters like CHB, W, BB, CH, BB/CH, LB, and RB with the rate of erosion of the Majuli Island in different reaches by measuring their temporal variations in the planform. The laws evolved thereby are useful to understand and describe the gross changes in the geometrical relationships of associative features. For example, we have observed clearly that, (a)The Majuli Island as a whole, is not behaving uniformlyupper, middle and lower Majuli is having significant differences. (b) We have also observed that the changes in the channel belt area (CHB) and the average width of different reaches (W) are related to the erosion of Majuli in a way that wherever the river shows a widening tendency, the rate of erosion of the Majuli Island is considerably lesser. Thus, there is a competing relationship between the erosion of the banks and the island. The reaches where the banks are constituted of loose materials (compared to the banks of the island), the island remains protected at the cost of increased erosion of the river bank. However, wherever, the river is forced to flow through a narrower stretch (stable bank material), the rate of erosion of the island is greater. (c) For both the braid bar (BB) and channel (CH) areas, with the percentage rise of these two parameters, rate of erosion kept on increasing. However, after reaching a threshold value of 75%, further rise do not intensify the erosion rate of the island (Fig. 4B-C). (d) Also, the trend of BB (Fig. 3A-B) shows clearly that in the lower Majuli part, aggradation has increased vigorously during 1975-2005 than 1915-1975. This also indicates that the variations in the sediment budgeting in different stretches are quite different. (e) If we assume that the erosion of Majuli Island is also acting as a forcing to determine the new braid bar formation, then the statistical analysis shows the result in affirmative.

(BB/CH) = 115.9 + 0.286 ME (1975-2005) (BB/CH) = 7.137 + 0.142 ME (1915-2005) We observe a remarkable jump in the aggradationary tendency of the Majuli bearing channel belt of the Brahmaputra (Fig.5B) from 1915-1975 to 1975-2005. Secondly, the slope


S.K. Lahiri / South East Asian Journal of Sedimentary Basin Research 1 (2013) 80-89

Moreover, the erosion of Majuli is also influencing the BB/CH ratio and the aggradationary tendency observed more prominently in the lower Majuli. 5.2. Will Majuli erode completely in the near future? We have seen from our measurements and comparison of different geomorphic parameters over the last ninety years that contrary to the usual belief, every part of Majuli Island is not eroding uniformly; rather some of the reaches have grown in area. During 1915-2005, the average rate of erosion of the Majuli Island was 3.1km2/yr; however, during 1975-2005, the rate of erosion became 4.4km2/yr. During the same period (1975-2005), the erosion rates of upper, middle and lower Majuli were respectively, 16.3%, 5.2% and 32.3%. This shows clearly the unevenness of erosion and the lower Majuli is eroding much more severely compared to the rest of the island. Reach-6, 8 and 9 were showing an overall growth during the period 1915-2005. The erosion of the Majuli Island seems to have taken place both due to the head on impact as well as lateral impact (Fig. 6) but presently left lateral impact seems to be the more dominating cause. The nature of thalweg migration is an important parameter that needs to be understood. The direction along which the Brahmaputra is migrating presently does not indicate the possibility of complete erosion of the island in the near future. However, lower Majuli is highly vulnerable.

6. Conclusion The overall erosion of the Majuli Island has increased over time but the erosion is highly uneven and the lower Majuli is eroding much more severely compared to the rest of the island. The statistical method of least squares shows clearly that the geomorphic parameters like variability in the channel belt area (CHB), braid bar area (BB), channel area (CH), average width (W), right bank line (RB) and left bankline (LB) can be treated as geomorphic forcings influencing the erosion of the Majuli Island. There seems to be a competing relation between the bank erosion and the erosion of the island. Reaches where the banks are stable witness more erosion of the island. Conversely, the erosion of the Majuli Island can also be treated as a forcing which is influencing the braid bars as well as the aggradation-degradation mechanism of the Brahmaputra channel belt. Increasing erosion seems to favour aggradation.

Acknowledgement The author is thankful to IIT Kanpur and Dibrugarh University, Assam, for providing the institutional support to conduct this study. Thanks to the India Office Library and Records, London, UK, for providing the topographic map of the study area prepared during 1912-1926 seasons. The author also acknowledges the SAP grant of UGC that helped partly to do this research.

Fig. 6.The cartoons show some of the possibilities of erosion of the Majuli Island. Each of the possibilities demands independent redress measures if the relic island is to be saved from complete extinction.


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Table 1 Temporal and planar trend of erosion of the Majuli Island for the period 1915-2005 Time period Upper Majuli (28km wide) About 44 km2 area eroded which was about 11.4% of the landmass during 1915.The Brahmaputra Channel belt area (CHB) and obviously, the average width (W) of the channel belt were showing a crest and trough with decreasing trend towards the downstream direction. Braid bar (BB) area was showing the same trend with a mild increase of about 6.37%. Channel area (CH) on the other hand was showing a sharp increase of 59.8% indicating thereby an overall degradation trend. Formation of new braid bars much lesser than the erosion rate of the older flood plain areas of the Majuli Island. Erosion aggravated in absolute terms (about 56 km2) as well as in percentage (about 16% of the landmass of 1975). CHB, W increased. BB was showing a tremendous increase of about 56.6%. With a crest and a trough, CH decreased by 13.4%. A clear case of aggradation. Severe erosion of the Majuli Island and the simultaneous increase in the new bed bar formation. Middle Majuli (10km wide) This portion does not only show absence of erosion; about 9.6 km2 area (about 15% more than 1915) was added. This was probably a direct fall out of the massive embankment projects undertaken. CHB, W and CH were showing increasing trend. BB was showing a reducing trend of about 31%. Thus, in spite of the expansion of the island in this unit, the degradation trend was common to the upper Majuli. Check in erosion and reduction in new braid bar formation. Small but positive erosion; about 5% of the 1975 landmass. CHB, W decreased showing contraction of the Brahmaputra in this patch. CH decreased by about 31% and BB increased by 32.6%. Aggradation. Mild erosion of the Majuli Island and substantial increase in the new braid bars. Lower Majuli (45km wide) A severe erosion of about 113 km2 area; i.e., about 1.74 km2/y (>34% of the 1915 landmass). CHB, W were showing a contraction trend. BB decreased by about 12%; CH on the other hand increased by 86.7%. This again shows degradation. Severe erosion of the Majuli Island as well as reduced tendency of new braid bar formation.


Unabated massive erosion - about 32.3% of the land mass existing during 1975 was eroded; at the increased rate of 2.4 km2/y. Frontal and end part of this zone shows expansion of the channel belt with most of the middle region unchanged. CH decreased by 28.4%. BB increased massively (53.5%) showing vigorous aggradation. Severe erosion of the Majuli Island and vigorous formation of the new braid bars.