Changes in hydrology and sediment delivery of the Mekong River in the last 50 years: connection to damming, monsoon, and ENSO



As the population and economy boom, more and more dams are being built in the Mekong River basin. Previous studies have revealed that Manwan Dam had little influence on the runoff–SSC (suspended sediment concentration) relationship, and the sediment load was relatively stable over the past 40 years. However, little is known at present on the relationship among monsoons, El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), precipitation, runoff, and the impact of dams on the delta dynamics. A comprehensive hydropower GIS database covering the entire Mekong basin is presented in this study. Mann–Kendall trend analysis showed no significant change in precipitation and runoff over the past 50 years. Spectral analysis showed that the runoffs of the middle to lower reach of Mekong River are correlated with the Indian Monsoon, where as the East Asian Monsoon's influence is mainly on the lower reach. With another 200 new dams to be added to the basin in the next couple of decades, changes are expected in both hydrological regime and delta dynamics. On one hand, the runoff showed a closer connection with the regional precipitation and ENSO in the post-dam period (1993–2005) than in the pre-dam period (1950–1993). Such a relationship is expected to be even closer when more dams are completed. On the other hand, both daily maximum and minimum water levels on the delta plain have shown an abrupt drop since the end of 1994. This reduced water-level gradient between the river and sea inevitably weakens the sediment discharge to the coast, which might intensify the ongoing coastal erosion on the eastern part of the delta plain. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.