Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 14, Issue 12, pp 2001–2018 | Cite as

Process-based modelling of erosion, sediment transport and reservoir siltation in mesoscale semi-arid catchments

  • Axel Bronstert
  • José-Carlos de Araújo
  • Ramon J. Batalla
  • Alexandre Cunha Costa
  • José Miguel Delgado
  • Till Francke
  • Saskia Foerster
  • Andreas Guentner
  • José Andrés López-Tarazón
  • George Leite Mamede
  • Pedro Henrique Medeiros
  • Eva Mueller
  • Damià Vericat



To support scientifically sound water management in dryland environments a modelling system has been developed for the quantitative assessment of water and sediment fluxes in catchments, transport in the river system, and retention in reservoirs. The spatial scale of interest is the mesoscale because this is the scale most relevant for management of water and land resources.

Materials and methods

This modelling system comprises process-oriented hydrological components tailored for dryland characteristics coupled with components comprising hillslope erosion, sediment transport and reservoir deposition processes. The spatial discretization is hierarchically designed according to a multi-scale concept to account for particular relevant process scales. The non-linear and partly intermittent run-off generation and sediment dynamics are dealt with by accounting for connectivity phenomena at the intersections of landscape compartments. The modelling system has been developed by means of data from nested research catchments in NE-Spain and in NE-Brazil.

Results and discussion

In the semi-arid NE of Brazil sediment retention along the topography is the main process for sediment retention at all scales, i.e. the sediment delivery is transport limited. This kind of deposition retains roughly 50 to 60 % of eroded sediment, maintaining a similar deposition proportion in all spatial scales investigated. On the other hand, the sediment retained in reservoirs is clearly related to the scale, increasing with catchment area. With increasing area, there are more reservoirs, increasing the possibility of deposition. Furthermore, the area increase also promotes an increase in flow volume, favouring the construction of larger reservoirs, which generally overflow less frequently and retain higher sediment fractions. The second example comprises a highly dynamic Mediterranean catchment in NE-Spain with nested sub-catchments and reveals the full dynamics of hydrological, erosion and deposition features. The run-off modelling performed well with only some overestimation during low-flow periods due to the neglect of water losses along the river. The simulated peaks in sediment flux are reproduced well, while low-flow sediment transport is less well captured, due to the disregard of sediment remobilization in the riverbed during low flow.


This combined observation and modelling study deepened the understanding of hydro-sedimentological systems characterized by flashy run-off generation and by erosion and sediment transport pulses through the different landscape compartments. The connectivity between the different landscape compartments plays a very relevant role, regarding both the total mass of water and sediment transport and the transport time through the catchment.


Connectivity Deposition Erosion Modelling Sediment transfer Semi-arid 



This research was carried out in research projects including scientists from Brazil, Spain and Germany. The authors acknowledge funding from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG-Projects BR 1731/3, BR 1731/11, GU 987/5, FO 754/1), the Spanish Ministry of Science and Education (Consolider-Ingenio 2010 CSD2009-727 00065), the European Social Fund, the Brazilian Ministry of Education (CAPES) and the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technical Development (CNPq). Damiá Vericat’s research is supported by a Ramon y Cajal Fellowship from the Spanish Ministry (RYC-2010-06264). We further acknowledge the support by a number of very motivated and skillful students for without their help and enthusiastic work in the field and laboratories we could not have achieved all the results. We further want to thank Andreas Bauer for organizing and leading several instrumentations in the field and for finalizing the figures in this manuscript.

Supplementary material

11368_2014_994_MOESM1_ESM.docx (106 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 105 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Axel Bronstert
    • 1
  • José-Carlos de Araújo
    • 2
  • Ramon J. Batalla
    • 3
  • Alexandre Cunha Costa
    • 5
  • José Miguel Delgado
    • 1
  • Till Francke
    • 1
  • Saskia Foerster
    • 7
  • Andreas Guentner
    • 8
  • José Andrés López-Tarazón
    • 9
  • George Leite Mamede
    • 6
  • Pedro Henrique Medeiros
    • 10
  • Eva Mueller
    • 1
  • Damià Vericat
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Hydrology & Climatology, Institute of Earth and Environmental ScienceUniversity of PotsdamPotsdam-GolmGermany
  2. 2.Department of Agricultural EngineeringFederal University of CearáFortalezaBrazil
  3. 3.University of Lleida, Fluvial Dynamics Research Group -RIUSCataloniaSpain
  4. 4.University of Lleida, Fluvial Dynamics Research Group -RIUSCataloniaSpain
  5. 5.Campus da Liberdade Avenida da AboliçãoRedençãoBrazil
  6. 6.Campus da Liberdade Avenida da AboliçãoRedençãoBrazil
  7. 7.GFZ German Research Centre for GeosciencesSection 1.4 Remote Sensing, TelegrafenbergPotsdamGermany
  8. 8.GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Section 5.4 Hydrology, TelegrafenbergPotsdamGermany
  9. 9.University of Lleida, Fluvial Dynamics Research Group -RIUSCataloniaSpain
  10. 10.Federal Institute of Education, Science and Technology of CearáMaracanaú, CearáBrazil

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