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Water Discharge and Sediment Load from the Western Slopes of the

Colombian Andes with Focus on Rio San Juan


Juan D. Restrepo1 and Bjorn Kjerfve2
Marine Science Program, Department of Geological Sciences, and the Belle W. Baruch Institute for Marine
Biology and Coastal Research, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina 29208, U.S.A.
(e-mail: restrepo@geol.sc.edu)

ABSTRACT
Small rivers draining high-rainfall basins and mountainous terrain west of the Cordilleras in South America have
disproportionately high water discharge and sediment load. Fifteen rivers in western Colombia discharge a combined
254 km3 yr21 or 8020 m3 s21 of water into the Pacific. Sediment yield is strongly correlated with basin area (R2 =
0.97), and sediment load is correlated with water discharge (R2 = 0.73 ). Rio San Juan occupies a 16,465-km2 basin with
a mean annual rainfall of 7277 mm. It has the highest water discharge (2550 m3 s21), sediment load (16 # 10 6 t yr21),
and basin-wide sediment yield (1150 t km22 yr21) on the entire west coast of South America. Rio Pata drains a 23,700km2 basin with a mean annual rainfall of 2821 mm. Its water discharge, sediment load, and basin-wide sediment
yield are 1291 m3 s21, 14 t yr21, and 972 t km22 yr21, respectively. Rio San Juan and Rio Pata deliver 30 # 10 6 t of
suspended sediment annually into the Pacific. Analysis of data for an additional 22 rivers in Colombia that drain
into the Caribbean Sea indicates that the Pacific rivers have at least twice the sediment yield compared with the
larger Rio Magdalena. Our results confirm that the Pacific rivers of Colombia need to be accounted for in global
sediment budgets.

Introduction
equately documented, although their water discharge and sediment load are of the same magnitude as rivers with much larger drainage areas, for
example, Rio Magdalena. Monitoring of water and
sediment transports are usually made only in the
largest and most accessible rivers, although rivers
with relatively small drainage basins can be just as
important (Milliman 1979; Milliman and Syvitski
1992).
Milliman and Meade (1983) estimated the sediment yield for the entire west coast of South America to be 500 t km22 yr21, based on data from three
Peruvian watersheds. Milliman and Syvitski (1992)
used a regression equation to increase the estimate
of sediment yield to 1200 t km22 yr21 for the west
coast of South America, based on an average watershed size of 15,000 km2. However, they acknowledged the large uncertainty of this estimate and the
general lack of available data from this part of the
world. The western slope of the Cordilleras, between Tumaco and Cabo Corrientes in Colombia
(fig. 1), receives between 2000 and 8000 mm of rainfall annually (Eslava 1992, 1993) and consists of a

Sediment fluxes from small rivers in humid tropical regions were most certainly underestimated in
early global sediment budgets (Holeman 1968; Lisitzin 1972; Jansen and Painter 1974; Meybeck 1976;
Alekin 1978; Unesco 1979, 1992). Milliman (1990),
Milliman and Meade (1983), and Milliman et al.
(1995) have made the argument that the discharge
of sediment to the oceans from small tropical rivers, draining steep mountain slopes adjacent to the
ocean, may have greater impact on the world sediment budget than previously thought. The focus
on small sediment-rich rivers has primarily been
directed toward southeast Asia, but rivers draining
the high-rainfall areas of the western Cordilleras
(Andes) of Colombia may also have an impact on
global budgets. These Colombian rivers are inadManuscript received June 1, 1999; accepted September 22,
1999.
1
Also: Departamento de Geologa, Area de Ciencias del Mar,
Universidad EAFIT (Escuela de Administracion, Finanzas, y Tecnologas), A. A. 3300, Medellin, Colombia.
2
Also: Departamento de Geoqumica, Universidade Federal
Fluminense, CEP-24. 020-007 Niteroi, Brazil.

[The Journal of Geology, 2000, volume 108, p. 1733] q 2000 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0022-1376/2000/10801-0002$01.00

17

Figure 1. Map of the Pacific and Caribbean drainage basins of Colombia, showing the principal rivers, the northern
(A), central (B), and southern (C) Pacific basins, hydrological stations (squares), where sediment load and water
discharge were measured; meteorological stations (bold numbers and circles), with data used to calculate runoff from
the watersheds; the Western, Central, and Eastern Cordilleras (solid triangles); and Rio Sanguianga (R. Sng). The
hydrological station at Los Nortes (square) along Rio Patia is shown to the left of the metereological station no. 10.

Journal of Geology

WAT E R D I S C H A R G E A N D S E D I M E N T L O A D

number of high-yield sediment rivers, with humid


watersheds of medium size, originating in the Cordilleras at elevations between 3000 and 4600 m.
It is our objective to synthesize data on water
discharge and sediment load of the principal rivers
along the Pacific coast of Colombia, in particular
Rio San Juan, based on a substantial data set of
multiyear measurements. We will then extrapolate
our results to ungauged rivers on the Pacific coast
of Colombia and make comparisons to rivers draining into the Caribbean Sea and elsewhere.
Data and Methods
Meteorological and hydrological data have been
monitored routinely for years by various government agencies for many of the Pacific and Caribbean river basins in Colombia. We have obtained
water and sediment data for more than 40 sites (fig.
1) upstream of tidal influences. River discharge determinations are based on daily water stage (level)
measurements and the application of rating curves
(Buchanan and Somers 1969; Gregory and Walling
1973). Sediment load measurements are based on
daily sediment concentration measurements and
cross multiplication with water discharge (Colby
1956; Jansen et al. 1979).
Rivers situated deep inside tropical rain forests
are often poorly gauged, and data on sediment load
are rare. The Colombian Pacific rivers are no exception. Even when stations are gauged, it is quite
common that 1 40% of the record is missing. In the
Colombian Pacific, however, seven stations have
continuous data for more than 9 yr. Six of these
stations on the San Juan, Pata, and Mira rivers also
have measurements of sediment load since 1985.
We obtained water and sediment load data from
Instituto de Hidrologa, Metereologa, y Estudios
Ambientales (IDEAM; Instituto de Hidrologa,
Metereologa, y Estudios Ambientales 1995) for the
San Juan, Pata, and Mira rivers, which drain into
the Pacific Ocean, and also the Magdalena, Atrato,
Sinu, and several smaller rivers, which drain into
the Caribbean (fig. 1). For Rio San Juan (fig. 2), we
used daily measurements of water discharge at
Tado (19861994), Noanama (19741994), and Malaguita (19701994) and daily sediment load at Tado
(19901997). Monthly sediment load estimates at
Malaguita were also obtained from Interconexion
Electrica S. A. (ISA; Interconexion Electrica S. A.
1978) for 12 mo in 1978. For Rio Pata, we obtained
data of daily water discharge and sediment load at
La
Fonda
(19811993),
Puente
Guascas
(19721993), Los Nortes (19881995), and Puente
Pusmeo (19721993). Daily data of water discharge

19

and sediment load for Rio Mira were gathered at


Pipiguay (19821993). Monthly water discharge
measurements for many smaller rivers, for example, Baudo, Raposo, Tapaje, Amarales, Satinga, and
Sanguianga, along the Pacific coast were obtained
from Departamento Nacional de Planeacion (DNP;
Meja et al. 1984), Instituto Colombiano de Hidrologa, Metereologa, y Adecuacion de Tierras
(HIMAT; Instituto Colombiano de Hidrologa, Metereologa, y Adecuacion de Tierras 1989), Instituto
Geografico Agustn Codazzi (IGAC; Instituto Geografico Agustn Codazzi 1989), and Ministerio de
Agricultura and HIMAT (Marn 1992) for the time
periods indicated in table 1. For the Caribbean rivers, we were unable to access the daily data and,
rather, report monthly values for water discharge
and sediment load for the Atrato (19821993) and
Sinu (19631993) rivers, based on IDEAM (1995).
Small lowland rivers draining into the Uraba Gulf
and also from the Guajira basin were included in
the analysis as well, based on monthly data of discharge and load (table 1; fig. 1). For Rio Magdalena,
we collected daily discharge and load data from
1975 to 1995 from IDEAM.
We compared normalized sediment yields (t km22
21
yr ) for the river basins by dividing sediment load
(t yr21) by drainage basin areas (km2). We measured
watershed areas with a planimeter from maps to
scale 1 : 50,000 (IDEAM 1995) for the Pacific and
Caribbean basins. Other physiographic characteristics were gathered from Cornish (1952), West
(1957), Instituto Geografico Agustn Codazzi
(1981), Lobo-Guerrero (1993), Vernette et al. (1995),
and Correa (1996).
For the Baudo, Mira, and Atrato rivers (fig. 1), we
modeled water discharge with a simple climatic
runoff model (Schreiber 1904; Holland 1978). Although measurements exist for some of these rivers, they were made far upstream. The runoff model
has been shown to work well for a diverse number
of systems (Holland 1978; Kjerfve 1990; Medeiros
and Kjerfve 1993; Kjerfve et al. 1996, 1997). The
model requires temperature and rainfall data,
which were obtained from Snow (1976), Instituto
Colombiano de Hidrologa, Metereologa, y Adecuacion de Tierras (1989), Instituto Colombiano
para el Desarrollo de la Ciencia y Tecnologa Francisco Jose de Caldas and Financiera Energetica Nacional (COLCIENCIAS-FEN; 1990), Eslava (1992,
1993), and Lobo-Guerrero (1993) for 13 stations (fig.
1). We verified the applicability of the model to the
Colombian rivers by comparing discharge measurements to model results for Rio San Juan and
Rio Pata. The measured discharge (QR, m3 s21) from
a drainage basin (A, km2) is computed as

20

J. D. RESTREPO AND B. KJERFVE

Figure 2. Rio San Juan drainage basin, showing the principal tributaries and the four meteorological-hydrological
stations (circles), with data used to simulate water discharges: Istmina (M1), El Salado (M2), Noanama (M3), and
Malaguita (M4). Squares represent hydrological stations. Solid triangles represent the Western Cordilleras, the main
peaks (Cerros Caramanta, La Serna, Tamana, Tatama), and the mountain chains (Serrana del Baudo and Istmo de
San Pablo), which form the western and northern boundaries of the San Juan drainage basin.

QR = r #

Df
# dA
r

(1)

(Kjerfve 1990), where Df is runoff (mm yr21), r is


precipitation (mm yr21), and the nondimensional
quantity Df/r is the runoff ratio, which expresses
the fraction of rainfall converted into runoff. The
runoff ratio (Schreiber 1904; Sellers 1965; Holland
1978; Kjerfve 1990) was calculated from
Df
= e2Eo/r,
r

(2)

where Eo is the potential evapotranspiration (mm


yr21), calculated using the empirical dependence on
air temperature (T, degrees Kelvin)

Eo = 1.0 # 10 9 # e24620/T

(3)

(Holland 1978). Since rainfall, temperature, and


runoff ratio vary within a drainage basin, we divided each drainage basin into three polygons or
more, each polygon with approximately uniform
elevation, rainfall, and temperature. We obtained
monthly mean temperature and rainfall data from
representative meteorological sites within each
polygon and calculated the corresponding runoff ratio and discharge from each polygon. For the highaltitude headwaters without direct temperature
measurements, we corrected the temperature by
24.777C 1000 m21 elevation increase as proposed
by Eslava (1993) for the humid atmosphere of the
Pacific basins. By summing the discharges from all

Table 1. Drainage Basin, Annual Rainfall, Measured Water and Sediment Transports, and Calculated Yields for
Colombian Rivers

River
Pacific coast:
North Basin
Rio Baudo
Rio San Juan
Tado
Malaguita
Central Basin
Rio Dagua
Rio Anchicaya
Rio Cajambre
Rio Naya Yurimangui
Rio Yurumangui
Rio San Juan Micay
Rio Saija
Rio Timbiqu
Rio Guapi
Rio Iscuande
Rio Tapaje
Rio Sanguianga
Others
South Basin
Rio Pata
La Fonda
Puente Guascas
Los Nortes
Puente Pusmeo
Rio Chagui/Cuna
Rio Mira
Pipiguay
Total Pacific
Caribbean Coast:
Uraba Gulf
Rio Atrato
Rio Chigorodo
Rio Leon
Rio Vijagual
Rio Grande
Rio Zungo
Rio Apartado
Rio Carepa
Rio Currulao
Rio Guadalito
Rio Turbo
Caribbean Basin
Rio Mulatos
Rio Sinu
Rio Canal Dique
Rio Magdalena
Guajira Basin
Rio Piedras
Rio Gaira
Rio Guachaca
Rio Don Diego
Rio Ancho
Rio Palomino
Rio Ranchera
Total Caribbean

Basin area
(#103 km2)

Annual
rainfall
(mm)

21.8
5.4
16.4
1.6
14.3
26
1.7
1.1
1.9
2
1.4
4.4
1.4
1.2
2.9
2.1
2.1
1.5
2.2
28.5
23.7
1.8
8.9
14.5
14.1
)
4.8
.2

5600
6373
7277
7410
8117
4100
)
)
)
)
)
)
)
)
)
)
)
)
)
2000
2821
1877
833
1410
1410
3054
5546
8838

76.3

Sediment
discharge
(#106 t yr21)

Sediment yield
(t km22 yr21)

Years
of data

)
23.68
82.1
8.23
82.1
)
3.97
3.53
8.64
13.15
)
19.11
5.23
4.64
11.26
6.71
5.52
2.76
)
)
40.74
1.8
7.1
10.39
10.34
4.21
23.43
3.56

)
)
)
2.6
16.42
)
)
)
)
)
)
)
)
)
)
)
)
)
)
)
)
.88
15.39
8.82
13.71
)
.234
.234

)
)
)
1570
1150
)
)
)
)
)
)
)
)
)
)
)
)
)
)
)
)
478
1714
608
972
)
)
856

)
19801984
19701996
19861994
1978
)
19821993
19821993
19801984
19851993
19851993
19811993
19811993
19811993
19811993
19801984
19801984
19801984
19801984
)
19721993
19811993
19721993
19851993
19721993
19681993
19801993
19821993

5900

254.37

30.13

1053

35.7
.1
.7
.04
.07
.05
.16
.15
.23
.08
.16

5318
2485
2485
2485
2485
2485
2485
2485
2485
2485
2485

81.08
.46
2.01
.06
.13
.07
.14
.16
.31
.08
.12

11.26
.2153
.7701
.0219
.0438
.0292
.0620
.3175
.2373
.0310
.0730

315
1088
1007
548
626
584
585
2048
1023
369
445

19821993
19771993
19781993
19771993
19781993
19771993
19841993
19781993
19791993
19791993
19661993

1.02
10.18
)
257.43

2485
1750
1750
1700

.33
11.76
9.43
228.1

.2117
6.1
4.76
143.9

208
589
)
559

19781993
19631993
19811993
19751995

.14
.03
.26
.52
.54
.68
2.24

850
850
450
450
450
450
450

.15
.08
.45
1.14
.47
.80
.39

)
.0014
.0113
.0226
.0288
.0511
.1022

)
42
43
43
53
75
46

19741993
19781993
19731993
19731993
19711993
19731993
19761993

541

311.06

Water
discharge
(km3 yr21)

337.68

168.25

Note. The discharge for Rio Sanquianga is based on data before its capture of a portion of the Rio Pata discharge in 1976. The
load of Rio Mira at Pipiguay is not included in the total sediment load of the Pacific basins. Normalized sediment yield for the
river basins was estimated by dividing sediment load (t yr21) by drainage basin areas (km2). Sediment load information were gathered
from Instituto de Hidrologa, Metereologa, y Estudios Ambientales.

22

J. D. RESTREPO AND B. KJERFVE

polygons within a drainage basin, we obtained the


total discharge for the river system. The runoff
model is a climatic model and is not appropriate
for calculation of runoff events (Kjerfve 1990;
Kjerfve et al. 1997).
Geography of the Pacific Basins
The Pacific river basins of Colombia measure
76,365 km2, extend between latitudes 007369N and
077459N and longitudes 757519W and 797029W, and
make up all of Colombia west of the Cordillera
Occidental of the Andes. The area is 60150 km
wide, linking Panama and Ecuador, and consists of
a broad coastal plain and the western slope of the
Cordilleras (Snow 1976; Instituto Geografico Agustn Codazzi 1989; von Prahl et al. 1990). The principal rivers from north to south are the Baudo, San
Juan, Pata, and Mira (fig. 1). There are also many
smaller streams, including the Dagua, Cajambre,
Naya, Micay, Guapi, and Sanguianga rivers. All rivers drain the western Cordilleras. The basins consist of mountainous terrain with elevations as high
as 4600 m, valleys descending onto the broad
coastal lowlands (elevation 100 m), and depositional deltas (Hubach 1934; West 1957).
The Pacific basins are located within the humid
Tropics, characterized by high but relatively constant temperature, high rainfall rates, and high humidity. Average rainfall ranges from 2000 to 12,700
mm yr21 (Eslava 1992). Mean humidity at sea level
measures 88% and decreases by only 0.0035% for
every 100 m of elevation increase (Eslava 1993).
The basins are permanently under the influence of
the moist and unstable equatorial, maritime air
mass of the southern edge of the intertropical front
(West 1957). Moisture-laden air masses are orographically forced to ascend the western slopes of
the Andes, condensing and forming an almost continuous cloud bank from which enormous quantities of moisture are precipitated (Cornish 1952;
Eslava 1992). The rainfall distribution is bimodal,
with the highest rainfall occurring from September
to November, with a secondary rainy season from
April to June. The least rain falls from December
to March, and rainfall is also moderately low from
July to August (Snow 1976; Lobo-Guerrero 1993).
Based on rainfall distribution, air temperature,
and topography, the Pacific basins are divided into
three zones: the northern, central, and southern basins (fig. 1). The northern zone includes the watersheds of the Atrato, Baudo, and San Juan rivers.
Because of geography, Rio Atrato discharges into
Golfo de Uraba on the Caribbean coast, although
the basin lies west of the Cordilleras (fig. 1). Within

the northern zone lies the rain forestcovered Serrana de Baudo coastal range with elevations up to
700 m. Between this coastal range and the Cordilleras lies the 30100-km-wide valleys of the northflowing Rio Atrato and the south-flowing Rio San
Juan (fig. 2). The northern zone receives on average
5600 mm of rainfall annually and has a mean air
temperature of 26.27C (Snow 1976; Eslava 1992).
North of Cabo Corrientes (fig. 1), the coast is characterized by cliffed upland coastal plains and the
absence of alluvial plains (Cornish 1952; West
1957).
The Pacific central zone includes the watersheds
of the Dagua, Anchicaya, Cajambre, Raposo, Yurumangu, San Juan de Micay, Iscuande, Amarales,
Satinga, and Sanguianga rivers. It receives on average 4100 mm of rainfall annually and has a mean
air temperature of 25.97C (Eslava 1992). The Pacific
southern zone consists of the drainage basins of the
Pata and Mira rivers, receives on average 2000 mm
of rainfall annually, and has a mean air temperature
of 26.47C (Eslava 1993; Lobo-Guerrero 1993). Much
of the central and southern zones consist of lowelevation alluvial plains and river deltas with associated barrier islands, beach ridge systems, and
mangrove-covered tidal flats (von Prahl et al. 1990).
The mangroves are largely distributed along the
central and southern sectors of the coast, covering
283,700 ha (INDERENA 1991; Alvarez-Leon 1993).
The entire coast is characterized by a semidiurnal
tide with an average range increasing from 2.5 m
at Tumaco in the south to 3.5 m at Buenaventura,
where the spring tide range is 4.9 m. Ebb-tidal deltas are prominent and extend far seaward (Martnez
et al. 1995). The landward geography is characterized by hilly coastal lowlands (elevation 30120 m)
and rain forests, and it is only further inland that
hills rise steeply along the slope of the Cordilleras
that are also covered with dense rain forests up to
elevations of 1500 m (West 1957; Snow 1976).
Tectonically, the entire Pacific coast is near the
zone of subduction between the Nazca and South
American plates, and earthquakes of magnitude 7
or higher occur from time to time. Severe earthquakes, accompanied by destructive tsunamis, impacted the Colombian coast in 1836, 1868, 1906,
and 1979 (Lockridge and Smith 1984; Martnez et
al. 1995). From Buenaventura south to the border
with Ecuador, the coast has been subsiding
throughout the Holocene and late Pleistocene
(Herd et al. 1981). During the Tumaco earthquake
of 1979, with a magnitude of 8.0, coastal areas adjacent to the area of faulting subsided as much as
1.6 m, while uplift occurred offshore on the edge
of the continental shelf (Herd et al. 1981).

Journal of Geology

WAT E R D I S C H A R G E A N D S E D I M E N T L O A D

Tectonic activity in Rio Patas drainage basin


along an active fault resulted in a surprising diversion of Rio Pata into Rio Sanguianga as a result of
the 1979 earthquake. A narrow 5-km-long canal
(Canal Naranjo) was dredged between Rio Pata and
the much smaller Rio Sanguianga in 1976 (Canal
Naranjo), 117 km upstream on the Pata and 67 km
upstream on the Sanguianga. When the 1979 earthquake struck, the vertical elevations of the basins
changed, and Rio Sanguianga captured approximately 70% of Patas discharge well upstream of
the confluence with the large Rio Telemb distributary. This created socioeconomic hardships for the
settlements along the lower courses of both rivers.
Impacts included channel erosion, sediment deposition, mangrove die off, changes to fishing resources, transportation and communication difficulties, and changes in lifestyles (Soeters and
Gomez 1985; Velasquez et al. 1994; Correa 1996).
Tectonic slumps lead to excessive erosion as
means to reestablish mass balance in mountain
belts with tectonic convergence (Hovius et al.
1998). Because of the proximity to the suture zone
and the intense thrust faulting parallel to the coast,
all the Pacific basins have probably experienced
high erosion rates. Besides hillslope erosion processes derived from tectonic uplift, heavy rains may
also promote landsliding from these humid uplands
of the western Cordilleras (Instituto Geografico
Agustn Codazzi 1995).
Measurements in Rio San Juan
Rio San Juan has the highest water discharge and
sediment load of all rivers along the west coast of
the South American continent. The San Juan basin
measures 16,465 km2 and consists of 12 mountain
tributaries (fig. 2). Rio San Juan is 352 km long and
originates in the western Cordilleras at an elevation
of 3900 m at Cerro Caramanta. The river follows
a sinuous course in a southerly direction until it
encounters a plateau, 90 m above sea level, immediately north of Buenaventura and Malaga bays,
where the river turns abruptly toward the west and
the coast (fig. 2).
The basin of Rio San Juan occupies one of a series
of north-south trending depressions within a great
structural trough, the Bolvar Geosyncline, which
extends through Ecuador and Colombia. This
trough was formed in the early Tertiary (West
1957). Crustal movements during the Pliocene
raised the Bolvar Geosyncline. The western Cordilleras and the Serrana del Baudo form the eastern
and the western boundaries of the drainage basin
of Rio San Juan, respectively (Cornish 1952; Correa

23

1996). The flood plain of San Juan is of limited size,


and the bends of the river are frequently in direct
contact with Tertiary bedrock valley walls. The
largest areas of alluvium have developed along the
upper course of the river. These deposits, the result
of erosion of the western Cordilleras, consist
largely of gravel and coarse sand, which are transported to the delta (Cornish 1952; West 1957).
The San Juan basin receives an average annual
rainfall of 7277 mm. The precipitation signature is
similar for all the Pacific basins and is shown in
figure 3. Approximately 78% of the yearly total rain
falls between May and November, and only 22%
falls between December and April. Based on daily
rainfall measurements from 1970 to 1996, the upper course of the river, represented by the meteorological data from Istmina (fig. 3A), receives 7410
mm rain annually. The middle part of the basin,
represented by Noanama (fig. 3B), receives 6129
mm, and the lower course, represented by Malaguita (fig. 3C) just upstream of the apex of the delta,
receives the highest annual rainfall of 8117 mm.
Based on daily stage measurements from 1970 to
1994, the mean annual discharge of Rio San Juan,
estimated at Malaguita 5 km upstream from the
apex of the delta (or 45 km upstream from the
ocean), is 2550 m3 s21, with a mean low discharge
of 1802 m3 s21 in February and a mean high discharge of 3800 m3 s21 in November. The annual
volume of water discharged into the Pacific Ocean
is 81.86 km3. The daily stage gauge data indicate
that the river has mean discharges of 442 m3 s21 at
Tado (19771994) and 1539 m3 s21 at Noanama
(19741994; fig. 4), 260 and 160 km upstream,
respectively.
Daily sediment load data exist for 19901997 for
Rio San Juan at Tado but are more limited at Malaguita compared with water discharge data. Interconexion Electrica S. A. (1978) carried out an engineering feasibility study to site a dam on the San
Juan and measured sediment concentration together with stage measurements at Malaguita during the project. Monthly data at Malaguita for 1978
indicate an annual sediment load of 16.42 # 10 6 t
yr21 (fig. 5). The corresponding sediment yield is
1150 t km22 yr21 for the 14,300 km2 upstream basin
for 1978.
More recently, IDEAM made sediment concentration and stage measurements at Tado, including
daily measurements from 1990 to 1997. The seasonal distribution of sediment load at Tado are
shown in figure 5. High values of 11.77 # 10 3 t d21
and 20.14 # 10 3 t d21 occur during October and November, respectively. A second highsediment load
period occurred from April, with 7.51 # 10 3 t d21,

24

J. D. RESTREPO AND B. KJERFVE

(fig. 6B). The relationship between load and discharge has been previously discussed for North Atlantic drainages (Meade 1982, 1988), other basins
of the United States (e.g., Colby 1956), the eastern
basins of Australia (Douglas 1967), catchments in
New Zealand (Griffiths 1981), rivers of Morocco
(Dunne 1979), and major rivers (Milliman 1979;
Milliman and Meade 1983; Milliman and Syvitski
1992). Although some studies have shown the tendency for sediment yields to increase for high values of runoff or precipitation, especially in mountain environments (e.g., see Douglas 1973; Dunne
1979), there is seemingly no simple relationship
between climate and sediment yield. According to
Walling and Webb (1983), geology, relief, land use,
and catchment size are of greater importance than
climate in controlling sediment yield.
The Rio San Juan water discharge varies significantly both seasonally and interannually. The
mean discharge is 2550 m3 s21, the seasonal root
mean square variation (rms) 659 m3 s21, and the
November peak floods usually exceed 4000 m3 s21
(fig. 7A). The discharge and peak flow of Rio San
Juan are significantly higher during La Nina years
as compared with El Nino years. We applied a 12mo equally weighted running mean filter to the
mean discharge of Rio San Juan and the monthly
Southern Oscillation Index (SOI; fig. 7) and then
regressed the smoothed discharge on the smoothed
SOI. The resulting coefficient of variation, R2 =
0.64, indicates that variations in the SOI explain

Figure 3. Monthly mean rainfall rates, 19701996, for


the three precipitation zones in Rio San Juan watershed:
upper course of the river (A) at Istmina (M1, fig. 2); middle
part of the basin (B) at Noanama (M3, fig. 2); and lower
course, upstream of the apex of the delta (C) at Malaguita
(M4, fig. 2).

to June, with 7.82 # 10 3 t d21. Maximum values


reported at Tado measure 26.77 # 10 3 t d21 and
43.73 # 10 3 t d21 during October 1994 and November 1993, respectively. Data averaged over the 8-yr
period yielded an annual sediment load of 2.6 #
10 6 t yr21, which corresponds to an average sediment yield of 1567 t km22 yr21 for the 1661 km2
upstream basin.
High rates of sediment load seem to be well explained by high rates of water discharge for Rio San
Juan at Tado and Rio Pata at Puente Pusmeo (fig.
6). Regression of daily sediment load on daily water
discharge yielded a coefficient of determination of
0.69 for Rio San Juan (fig. 6A) and 0.92 for Rio Pata

Figure 4. Monthly mean water discharge for the three


hydrological stations along the Rio San Juan. Tado
(19861994), Noanama (19741994), and Malaguita
(19701994) represent the upper, middle, and lower
course of the river, respectively. The stations are shown
in figure 2. The hydrological station at Noanama coincides with the meteorological station (M3).

Journal of Geology

WAT E R D I S C H A R G E A N D S E D I M E N T L O A D

25

mina, El Salado, Noanama, and Malaguita are at


the downstream limits.
The annual freshwater discharge was calculated
from equation (1) and the data in table 2. The calculations for the Rio San Juan yielded different
monthly runoff ratios for each subarea, varying
from 0.57 at Noanama during low-rainfall months
to 0.89 at Malaguita during high-rainfall months.
The runoff calculations show that the seasonality
in discharge largely depends on differences in rainfall rather than temperature variations. The mean
polygon runoff ratios were 0.88 for Istmina, 0.73
for El Salado, 0.68 for Noanama, and 0.75 for Mal-

Figure 5. Monthly mean sediment load in Rio San Juan


(solid lines) at Tado (19901997) and Malaguita (1978;
fig. 2) and at Rio Pata (dashed line) at Puente Pusmeo
(19721993; fig. 1).

64% of the variability in discharge, with high values of the SOI corresponding to pronounced La
Nina conditions and high discharge of Rio San Juan.
This relationship is similar to the response of Rio
Orinoco but contrary to rivers in Peru, Rio Guaiba
(Brazil), Rio Parana (Argentina; Depetris et al. 1996;
Goniadzki 1999), and other rivers, which experience significantly higher discharges during the
warm El Nino phase and are located south of the
stalled front, which extends approximately from
Quito to Sao Paulo during the El Nino phase.

Simulated Discharge Results


San Juan and Pata Rivers. To estimate freshwater
discharges for rivers not gauged, we first applied
the runoff model (eq. [1]) to Rio San Juan and Rio
Pata to verify the applicability of the model. We
compared simulated and measured discharges and
then used the model to simulate discharges for rivers without stream gauges.
Since the area between the San Juan headwaters
at 3900 m elevation and the first gauged meteorological station, Tado, at 100 m represents !10%
of the total drainage basin area, we divided the San
Juan watershed into only four subareas with characteristic elevations, temperatures, and rainfall
rates. The subareas were measured by planimetry.
For each site, mean monthly precipitation, temperature, potential evapotranspiration, and the calculated dimensionless runoff ratio from 1970 to
1996 were estimated for the polygons where Ist-

Figure 6. Relationship of monthly mean sediment load


(S, expressed in 106 t yr21) and monthly mean water discharge (Q, expressed in m3 s21). A, Rio San Juan at Tado
(19901997), with R2 = 0.69 and the regression equation
S = 51Q 2 6668 in the range 176 ! Q m3 s21 ! 377. B, Rio
Pata at Puente Pusmeo (19721993), with R2 = 0.92 and
the regression equation S = 240Q 2 40,586 in the range
163 ! Q m3 s21 ! 488.

26

J. D. RESTREPO AND B. KJERFVE

Figure 7. Time series plot of (A) monthly discharge


measurements for Rio San Juan, 19701994, at Malaguita
and the 12-mo equally weighted running mean discharge;
and (B) the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI), the atmospheric pressure difference (mb) at sea level between Darwin, Australia, and Tahiti and the corresponding 12-mo
equally weighted running mean values. The SOI is negative during El Nino years and positive during La Nina
years (Glantz 1997). The SOI data were obtained from
the NOAA project.

aguita, and the corresponding mean annual discharge rates from the four subareas were 445, 794,
905, and 558 m3 s21, respectively. The mean and
seasonal rms calculated freshwater discharge for
Rio San Juan into the Pacific is 2702 5 565 m3 s21
based on the 22-yr normal temperature and rainfall
data.
To validate the model, simulated discharge for
Rio San Juan, 19741994, was compared with the
measured discharge for the same period. The discharge calculated from the model (2702 5 565 m3
s21) was not significantly different at the 95% confidence level (t = 0.33; p = 1.80; P 1 0.05, paired
two-tailed t-test; Moore and McCabe 1993) than
from measured discharge (2550 5 659 m3 s21). The
agreement indicates that the model is robust and

works well for basins remaining humid throughout


the year.
The model was also applied to Rio Pata, and we
compared measured and simulated discharges. The
calculated annual runoff ratios were 0.64 at La
Fonda, 0.52 at Narino, and 0.20 at Puente Pusmeo.
The total calculated mean discharge and seasonal
rms at Puente Pusmeo was 300 5 188 m3 s21, while
the measured discharge was 328 5 99 m3 s21 (table
2). Although the seasonal agreement is less good
for Rio Pata, the simulated and measured discharges were not significantly different at the 95%
confidence interval (t = 0.70; p = 1.78; paired two
tailed t-test). The simulations yielded a greater seasonal signature, probably because of violation of the
steady state assumption.
Baudo, Mira, and Atrato Rivers. Water discharges
for the Baudo, Mira, and Atrato rivers were simulated based on monthly meteorological data from
1973 to 1991 (Snow 1976; Eslava 1992, 1993). For
Rio Baudo, the mean runoff ratio was 0.69 and the
mean and seasonal rms freshwater discharge was
782 5 181 m3 s21. The mean runoff ratios for Rio
Mira were 0.85 at Guiza and 0.53 at Granja El Mira,
and the simulated mean and seasonal rms water
discharge was 839 5 213 m3 s21. For Rio Atrato, the
runoff ratios were 0.87 at Lloro, 0.69 at Tagachi,
and 0.50 at Domingodo, and the mean and seasonal
rms water discharge was 2740 5 678 m3 s21 (table
2). Discharges for the Baudo, Mira, and Atrato rivers
have previously been estimated from short periods
of measurements (Departamento Nacional de Planeacion 1984). Meja et al. (1984) estimated mean
annual discharges of 706 m3 s21 for Rio Baudo and
821 m3 s21 for Rio Mira, and Javelaud (1987) and
Vernette et al. (1995) estimated a mean annual discharge of 2650 m3 s21 for Rio Atrato. These estimates and our simulations agree well.
Discharge, Load, Yield: Pacific Rivers
Four rivers provide most of the freshwater discharge into the Pacific. The largest is Rio San Juan,
with a mean discharge of 2550 m3 s21. Rio Pata, as
gauged at Puente Pusmeo, discharges on average
only 328 m3 s21 subsequent to the 1979 earthquake
and the diversion into Rio Sanguianga, but the
mean river basin discharge is 1291 m3 s21 because
of the large contribution from Rio Telemb, the last
tributary before the delta. Rio Mira contributes an
average 839 m3 s21, and Rio Baudo 782 m3 s21 (table
2). The annual water discharge into the Pacific
Ocean from these four larger rivers and the many
smaller rivers measures 8020 m3 s21, which corresponds to an annual volume of 254 km3. Table 1

Journal of Geology

Table 2.

WAT E R D I S C H A R G E A N D S E D I M E N T L O A D

27

Summary Data for the 13 Meteorological Stations Used in the Runoff Calculations

River (measured
discharge [m3 s21])
Rio San Juan (2550 5 659):
1. Istmina
2. Salado
3. Noanama
4. Malaguita

Latitude/
longitude
(N/W)
057099/76741
047559/767509
047409/767569
047119/777149

Elevation
(m)
90
45
40
40

Total San Juan


Rio Baudo (706 5 153):
5. Pie de Pato
Rio Mira (894 5 193):
6. Guiza
7. Granja Mira

7410
7447
6129
8117

.88
.72
.68
.75

Simulated
discharge
(m3s21)
445
794
905
558

5
5
5
5

53
116
236
202

2702 5 565

057319/767589

30

5400

6373

.69

782 5 181

017209/787099
017349/787419

950
16

273
3654

8838
3054

.85
.53

650 5 120
189 5 128
839 5 213

3927
027099/777039
017179/777229
017429/777299

580
2590
350

Total Pata
Rio Atrato (2571 5 632):
11. LLoro
12. Tagach
13. Domingodo

2145
4625
6825
2870

Df/r (2)

16,465

Total Mira
Rio Pata (328 5 99):
8. La Fonda
9. Narino
10. Puente Pusmeo

Area (km2)

Annual
rainfall
(mm)

1846
3471
12,314

1877
2100
1410

.64
.52
.20

300 5 188

17,631
057309/767349
067149/767489
077119/777029

90
20
11

Total Atrato

4869
12,152
3475
20,496

70 5 48
120 5 86
110 5 140

7786
6441
3465

.87
.69
.50

828 5 158
1718 5 474
194 5 125
2740 5 678

Note. Simulated and measured mean monthly water discharges and seasonal rms variations for the largest rivers of the pacific
coast, the San Juan, Pata, Mira, and Baudo, and the Rio Atrato (Caribbean coast).
Source. Hydrological and climatological data were gathered from Instituto de Hidrologa, Metereologa, y Estudios Ambientales
(1995), Snow (1976), and Eslava (1992, 1993). Analysis was done using equation (1).

shows the drainage areas, water discharge, and sediment transports for the largest Pacific and Caribbean rivers.
Rio Pata has the largest drainage basin of the
Colombian rivers draining into the Pacific (23,700
km2). From the upper river, sediment loads measure
0.88, 15.39, 13.71, and 8.82 #106 t yr21, as gauged
at La Fonda, Puente Guascas, Puente Pusmeo, and
Los Nortes, respectively (table 1). Based on daily
measurements from 1988 to 1995 by IDEAM at Los
Nortes, 9 km downstream of Puente Pusmeo and
representing an upstream basin area of 14,500 km2,
the maximum recorded sediment load was
245.8 # 10 3 t d21 in November 1993, and the
monthly mean sediment load measured 57.76 #
10 3 t, corresponding to an annual sediment load of
21.1 # 10 6 t yr21. The sediment yield for Rio Pata
ranges from 972 t km22 yr21 at Puente Pusmeo to
1714 t km22 yr21 at Puente Guascas for the most
upstream portion of the river. This latter location
has the highest yield of any of the Colombian
rivers.
The upper portion of Rio Mira has an annual sed-

iment load of 0.234 # 10 6 t yr21, as gauged at Pipiguay, and a sediment yield of 856 t km22 yr21.
Because this gauging station is located 130 km upstream and represents only 4% of the total basin
area, we did not use this load for the Pacific budget.
Considering the two gauged rivers at their furthest
downstream stations, San Juan and Pata, the measured annual sediment load of these rivers into the
Pacific Ocean is 30.13 # 10 6 t yr21 (table 1). Although Rio Atrato has its watershed west of the
Cordilleras, it discharges into the Caribbean Sea.
Therefore, Rio Atrato was not included in the Pacific budget.
The trend between sediment yield and basin area
for the Pacific rivers was determined by log-linear
regression of sediment yield on basin area (fig. 8).
We only included data for the most downstream
gauging locations on the San Juan, Pata, and Atrato
rivers. Although Rio Atrato discharges into the Caribbean Sea, it was included in the analysis because
its drainage basin is located west of the Cordilleras
and has the same drainage basin characteristics as
the San Juan and Pata rivers, for example, head-

28

J. D. RESTREPO AND B. KJERFVE

Figure 8. A, Relation of sediment yield versus basin


area for the three hydrological stations on the Pacific
coast listed in table 1. The relationship shows an inverse
correlation between sediment yield (Y) and basin area (A),
Y = 20.0444(A) 1 1934, with R2 = 0.97. B, Variation of
sediment yield with basin area for several mountainous
rivers of Southeast Asia, Oceania, South America (Amazon, Orinoco, and Parana), and Colombian rivers (San
Juan, Pata, Atrato, Magdalena, and Sinu) listed in table
1.

waters at high elevations, high rainfall rates, and


tectonic activity. Regression of sediment yield on
basin area (fig. 8A) yielded a trend with a coefficient
of determination R2 = 0.97.
According to Milliman and Syvitski (1992), basin
area and morphology exerts the major controls on
sediment yield, with climate, geology, and land use
being second-order influences. They demonstrated
a robust correlation between sediment yield and
basin area for mountainous rivers in North and
South America, Asia, and Oceania. Our data likewise indicated an excellent correlation, suggesting

that basin area explains sediment yield from the


western slopes of the Colombian Andes. To illustrate the global trend, we replotted sediment yield
on basin area on a log-log plot for several mountainous rivers of Southeast Asia, Oceania, and
South America, using the data of Milliman and Syvitski (1992) and including our estimates for San
Juan, Pata, Atrato, Magdalena, and Sinu. Figure 8B
indicates that the Colombian rivers fit the global
trend very well. The scatter reflects local effects
caused by morphology, tectonism, rainfall, land
use, and other effects.
We further estimated sediment load for the nongauged area of the Pacific coast from the regression
of sediment yield (Y) on basin area (A; fig. 8A). Using the regression equation Y = 20.0444(A) 1
1934, we estimated the sediment yield for the watersheds of the Baudo, Dagua, Anchicaya, Cajambre, Naya, San Juan de Micay, Guapi, Timbiqu,
Tapaje, Sanguianga, and Mira rivers. The mean sediment yield for these 11 rivers is 1827 t km22 yr21,
occupying a combined area of 36,100 km2 and with
a calculated sediment load of 65.96 # 10 6 t yr21.
This sediment load is very high and rather uncertain, considering that these rivers partially drain
lowland basins. Whether these rivers have such
high sediment loads or not is a question that needs
further data and analysis. Our best estimate of total
sediment load into the Pacific Ocean from both
gauged and ungauged rivers is 96.09 # 10 6 t yr21.
This results in a sediment yield estimate of 1260 t
km22 yr21, very similar to the yield of 1200 t km22
yr21 proposed by Milliman and Syvitski (1992)
based on extrapolation of data for a single river in
Peru.
According to Meybeck (1976, 1979, 1988), the extrapolation of sediment load and yield for whole
continents, based on data from one or a couple of
representative rivers is always problematic. This
approach is far from precise since many environmental factors, for example, climate, vegetation,
lithology, hydrology, relief, elevation, tectonics,
land use, and others, can cause up to three orders
of magnitude variability in sediment load. Thus,
sediment load rates must be determined on regional
scales with environmental factors as uniform as
possible. Our extrapolations for the rivers aside
from San Juan, Pata, and Atrato must thus be
viewed with scepticism.
The sediment yields of the upstream Rio San
Juan at Tado (1570 t km22 yr21) and the upstream
Rio Pata at Puente Guascas (1714 t km22 yr21) are
substantially higher than the averages calculated
for the entire Pacific coast and are among the highest values anywhere in the world. The correspond-

Journal of Geology

WAT E R D I S C H A R G E A N D S E D I M E N T L O A D

ing drainage areas are 1661 and 8900 km2, respectively. Both rivers descend rapidly from the high
Cordilleras to their alluvial plains. Over a distance
!75 km, Rio San Juan falls abruptly from an elevation of 3900 to 100 m at Tado, and the Iro, Condoto, Tamana, and Sip tributaries (fig. 2) descend
from elevations between 4200 and 2500 m in !50
km to join Rio San Juan in the upper watershed at
an elevation of 90 m. Likewise, Rio Pata descends
from its headwaters at 4580 m elevation to 400 m
at La Hoz de Minama over a distance of 150 km.
Since the San Juan drainage basin as a whole has a
greater sediment yield compared with the Pata
drainage basin (table 1), the explanation for the
higher yield of the upstream portions of the Pata
implies greater sediment deposition (storage) on the
alluvial plains of the Pata. In the case of Rio San
Juan, the control exerted by the Tertiary formations
in the middle and lower courses of the river results
in a much more narrow alluvial plain as compared
with Rio Pata and less sediment deposition/storage
within the drainage basin.
In general, climate determines where tropical
weathering occurs, while tectonics increase erosion
rates and dictate the composition of erosion products (Stallard 1988). Drainage basins with intense
tectonic activity usually have high sediment yields
(Meade 1988; Milliman and Syvitski 1992), as in
the case of Rio Pata. Furthermore, the presence of
unstable and cation-rich minerals in the suspended
load and bedload of rivers draining the Andean basins suggests that rapid erosion is indeed occurring.
Thus, along the western slopes of the Pacific basins,
high temperatures, humid conditions, and abundant vegetation in these high-rainfall basins promote rapid chemical weathering and high denudation rates.
Besides climate and weathering factors, other
processes such as landslides lead to slumps that
increase sediment loads. In humid uplands, landslides are the dominant mass-wasting process (Hovius et al. 1997, 1998). The Colombian Pacific basins
are characterized by the presence of active fault
systems, high precipitation rates (reaching as much
as 12 m in the Atrato watershed), slopes frequently
steeper than 357, and dense tropical rain forests
(West 1957; Instituto Geografico Agustn Codazzi
1995; Correa 1996). According to Hovius et al.
(1997), these conditions are favorable to the occurrence of rapid mass wasting caused mainly by hillslope erosion processes such as landslides, slumps,
and slides.

29

Discharge, Load, Yield: Caribbean Rivers


Caribbean Colombia is drained by three major rivers: Atrato, Sinu, and Magdalena. Rio Atrato drains
a basin of 35,700 km2. Although the Atrato occupies a considerable portion of the Pacific basin, the
river empties into the Caribbean through the Golfo
de Uraba (fig. 1). Upper and middle sections of Rio
Atrato are located in regions with very high annual
rainfall. The meteorological station at Granja Agrcola Lloro in the upper Atrato basin at an elevation
of 120 m has an annual rainfall rate of 12,717 mm
based on data from 1952 to 1989 (Eslava 1992,
1993). This, to the best of our knowledge, represents the highest rainfall rate anywhere in South
America. Based on runoff ratios calculated for Lloro
(11), Tagach (12), and Domingodo (13; fig. 1) from
monthly meteorological data (Snow 1976; Eslava
1992, 1993), we simulated the water discharge for
Rio Atrato to be 2740 m3 s21 (table 2). Based on
discharge gauging and sediment concentration
measurements, the sediment load of Rio Atrato is
11.26 # 10 6 t yr21, and the corresponding sediment
yield is 315 t km22 yr21. The sediment yield is comparatively low because of the large size of the drainage basin and the extensive low-lying Uraba alluvial flood plains, where significant sediment
deposition and storage occur.
Besides the Atrato, several other rivers discharge
into the Golfo de Uraba. These rivers are characterized by having small drainage basins and high
sediment yields (table 1). Rio Sinu empties into the
Golfo de Morrosquillo (fig. 1) and drains an area of
10,180 km2. Based on monthly data from 1963 to
1993, the annual discharge of Rio Sinu is 373 m3
s21. The sediment load is 6 # 10 6 t yr21 based on
data from 1972 to 1993, with a sediment yield of
589 t km22 yr21 at Montera.
Rio Magdalena is the largest system, with a
length of 1500 km. It drains the Andes Cordillera,
which forms the Western, Central, and Eastern
Cordilleras in Colombia. The drainage basin area
measures 257,438 km2 and occupies a considerable
part of the Colombian Andes (fig. 1). According to
Potter (1997), sediment deposits in the Magdalena
Valley between the Eastern and Western Cordilleras are evidence for a Late Miocene age for Rio Magdalena. The paleo-Magdalena, and its principal tributary, the paleo-Cauca, both developed in
longitudinal tectonic lows parallel to a convergent
margin. Thus, the tectonic control and origin are
evident along the mountain-parallel-oriented Magdalena drainage basin.
Daily water discharge measurements from 1975
to 1995 on Rio Magdalena at Calamar indicate an

30

J. D. RESTREPO AND B. KJERFVE

annual discharge of 7232 m3 s21. This discharge is


similar to earlier estimates of 7500 m3 s21 (Wright
and Coleman 1973; Coleman 1976; Meybeck 1976,
1979), 7474 m3 s21 (Milliman and Meade 1983),
7600 m3 s21 (Vernette 1985), and 7421 m3 s21 (Marn
1992). The discharge varies considerably interannually. The peak flood discharge usually exceeds
12,000 m3 s21 during La Nina years. Low water discharge of 20003000 m3 s21 occurs during El Nino
conditions. We also applied a 12-mo equally
weighted running mean filter to the mean discharge
of Rio Magdalena from 1975 to 1995 and the
monthly SOI and regressed the smoothed discharge
on the smoothed SOI. The resulting coefficient of
variation, R2 = 0.69, indicates that changes in the
SOI explain 69% of the variability in discharge.
Daily load measurements from 1975 to 1995
yielded an annual sediment load of 143.9 # 10 6 t
yr21. The calculated sediment yield for the drainage
basin area upstream of Calamar is 559 t km22 yr21.
The Canal del Dique (fig. 1) is a 114-km-long manmade channel from the Magdalena River at Calamar to Baha de Cartagena and was constructed in
1514 by native slaves on the order of Spanish conquistadors. The mean annual water discharge and
sediment load through this channel are currently
299 m3 s21 and 4.76 # 10 6 t yr21, respectively.
Although Milliman and Meade (1983) suggested
that Rio Magdalena transports more sediment than
the Orinoco and Parana rivers, based on a
19711972 study by NEDECO (Netherlands Engineering Consultants; 1973), this is probably not
true. Rather, the sediment load by the Parana, Orinoco, and Magdalena rivers are within 20%30%
equal in view of our recent data, although the Magdalena has a lower water discharge than the Parana
and Orinoco by a factor of four to five. The validity
of the NEDECO data set is questionable because
of the short record and the possible inclusion of
both bedload and suspended load (Milliman and
Meade 1983).
We calculated the sediment load for Rio Magdalena to be 143.97 # 10 6 t yr21, higher than the
133.06 # 10 6 t yr21 reported by Marn (1992) but
considerably lower than the estimate by Milliman
and Meade (1983) of 220 # 10 6 t yr21. This new rate
of sediment load by Rio Magdalena implies a sediment yield of 559 t km22 yr21, which is more realistic than previously reported values of 1000 t
km22 yr21 (Meybeck 1976, 1988), 900 t km22 yr21
(Milliman and Meade 1983), and 920 t km22 yr21
(Milliman and Syvitski 1992). Still, the Magdalena
yield is almost three times greater than the yield
of the Amazon (190 t km22 yr21, Milliman and Syvitski 1992) and more than 3.5 times greater than

the yield of the Parana, 30 (?) t km22 yr21 (Goniadzki


1999) and Orinoco, 150 t km22 yr21 (Milliman and
Syvitski 1992).
We estimate annual water discharge and sediment load into the Caribbean Sea to be 337.68 km3
yr21 and 168.25 # 10 6 t yr21, respectively, corresponding to a sediment yield for the Colombia Caribbean drainage basins of 541 t km22 yr21, or approximately half of the yield for the Colombia
Pacific basins (table 1).

Further Comparisons

The San Juan and Pata rivers appear to have the


highest sediment yields along the west coast of
South America and among the highest yields in the
world. The exception might be Rio Chira in Peru,
which was reported by Milliman and Meade (1983)
to have a suspended load of 75 # 10 6 t yr21 and a
sediment yield of 3700 t km22 yr21, based on 2 yr
of measurements. Whether this high sediment
yield resulted from a series of rare flood events or
a prolonged El Nino is a question that warrants
more scrutiny (Milliman and Meade 1983). Milliman and Syvitski (1992) lowered the yield of Rio
Chira significantly to 1000 t km22 yr21, which implies that both Rio San Juan at Malaguita (1150 t
km22 yr21) and Rio Pata at Puente Guascas (1714
t km22 yr21) have higher average yields than Rio
Chira.
Milliman (1990) argued that rivers with smaller
basins have less area to store sediments and that
the sediment yield of smaller basins increases as
much as sevenfold for each order of magnitude decrease in basin area. The result is that many rivers
draining smaller basins can have a much higher
yield than a river draining a larger basin.
In comparing rivers with small basins in high
rainfall areas in Colombia and Asia/Oceania, the
San Juan and Pata rivers are similar, in terms of
water discharge, sediment load, and sediment
yields, to the Purari and Fly rivers in Papua New
Guinea. Average annual rainfall ranges from 2000
to 8500 mm in the 33,670 km2 catchment of the
Purari, which has a mean discharge of 2360 m3 s21
(Pickup 1983). The Fly River has a mean discharge
of 2390 m3 s21 and a sediment yield of 1500 t km22
yr21 (Pickup et al. 1981). Although the San Juan
drains a basin approximately half as large as the
basin of the Purari (33,670 km2) and far smaller than
the 76,000 km2 size of the Fly, it has greater water
discharge. The yield of the Fly, 1500 t km22 yr21,

Journal of Geology

WAT E R D I S C H A R G E A N D S E D I M E N T L O A D

is very similar to the yield of the upper San Juan


and Pata rivers (table 1).
Milliman and Syvitski (1992) stated that mountainous rivers with basin areas of 10,000 km2 in
southeast Asia/Oceania have sediment yields between 140 and 1700 t km22 yr21 and have higher
yields by a factor of two to three than rivers draining other mountainous areas of the world. Taking
the overall yields for the Pacific basins of Colombia
to be between 1150 and 1714 t km22 yr21, it is apparent that rivers draining steep slopes in the western Andes have yields very similar to rivers draining mountainous terrain and high rainfall areas in
South Asia and Oceania (fig. 8B).
Our new data confirm that although the Pacific
rivers have smaller drainage basins, they have
much higher yields than either Caribbean rivers
(Magdalena, Atrato, Sinu) or those draining eastern
South America (Amazon, Orinoco, Parana). Rio Pata and Rio San Juan appear to have the highest
sediment yields of any river in South America and
are in many characteristics comparable to rivers in

31

Papua New Guinea and Taiwan, based on rainfall,


mountainous terrain, small river-basin area, and
high sediment transport.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This work was funded with resources from Instituto Colombiano para el Desarrollo de la Ciencia
y Tecnologa Francisco Jose de Caldas (COLCIENCIAS), grant BID-COLCIENCIAS 1216-09153-96 (Proyecto Delta del Rio San Juan), and Universidad EAFIT-Departamento de Geologa. We
thank I. Correa, J. L. Gonzalez, G. Lopez, and J. G.
Ramos of Proyecto Delta San Juan for their assistance and support. We would like to thank the director of Sector MarinoCOLCIENCIAS, L. Botero,
and the director of Departamento de GeologaUniversidad EAFIT, G. Bedoya, for their support
during this project. We thank J. D. Milliman for his
suggestions and extremely constructive comments
on an earlier draft of this article.

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