Bank erosion in an Andean páramo river system: Implications for hydro-development and carbon dynamics in the neotropical Andes

Abstract

The páramo of the Northern Andes provide critically important ecosystem services to the Northern Andean region in the form of water provisioning and carbon sequestration, both of which are a result of the páramo’s organic-rich soils. Little is known, however, about the hydro-geomorphic characteristics of the rivers that drain these ecosystems. With impending plans for widespread hydro-development and increasing implementation of carbon-sequestering compensation for ecosystem services programs in the region it is imperative that we develop a thorough understanding of the hydrogeomorphic role that rivers play in this unique ecosystem. The objective of this study was to quantify bank erosion along an Amazonian headwater stream draining a small, relatively undisturbed páramo catchment to gain a better understanding of the natural erosion regime and the resulting sediment contributions from this unique ecosystem. This study implemented a combination of field, laboratory, and Geographic Information Systems techniques to quantify bank erosion rates and determine a bank erosion sediment yield from the Ningar River, a small páramo catchment (22.7 km2) located in the eastern Andean cordillera of Ecuador. Results show that bank erosion rates range from 3.0 to ≥ 390.0 mm/yr, are highly episodic, and yield at least 487 tons of sediment annually to the Ningar River. These results imply that 1) páramo ecosystems substantially contribute to the sediment load of the Amazon River basin; 2) bank erosion is a potentially significant flux component of basin-scale carbon cycles in páramo ecosystems; and 3) hydrologic alteration campaigns (dam building) will likely critically alter these contributions and concomitantly disconnect a critical source of sediment and nutrients to downstream ecosystems.

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Acknowledgements

First and foremost the authors would like to thank the funding sources that supported this research. Those sources include an Oak Ridge Associated Universities Junior Faculty Enhancement Award, an Appalachian State University Board of Trustees International Research Grant, and an Appalachian State University Research Council grant awarded to PI Martin, and a Fulbright Foundation Science and Technology grant awarded to PI Wemple. Additionally, the authors extend sincere thanks to Pablo Arévalo Moscoso of the Universidad Politécnica Salesiana in Cuenca, Ecuador for use of the Biotechnology laboratory facility as well as to Catherine Schloegel, Molly Roske and Stuart White of the Fundación Cordillera Tropical in Cuenca, Ecuador for their granting of access to the research sites, logistical support, and local knowledge. Finally, the authors would like to thank the reviewers for their insightful comments that helped improve the quality of the original manuscript.

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Martin, D., Ely, C. & Wemple, B. Bank erosion in an Andean páramo river system: Implications for hydro-development and carbon dynamics in the neotropical Andes. J. Mt. Sci. 16, 243–255 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11629-018-5110-3

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Keywords

  • Bank erosion
  • Páramo
  • Fluvial geomorphology
  • Andes