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Type: Thesis
Title: Methods to assess environmental flow and groundwater management scenarios for floodplain tree health in the Lower River Murray.
Author: Overton, Ian Clifford
Issue Date: 2013
School/Discipline: School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Abstract: Riparian environments have degraded world-wide as a consequence of human development and climatic change. The native floodplain tree communities of semi-arid river systems are under stress from reduced flooding frequencies as a consequence of water extractions, river regulation and climate change. In regions with saline aquifers, river regulation and land management have also caused soil salinisation, further impacting on floodplain tree health. The lower River Murray in south-eastern Australia is a major ecological asset considered as an area of international significance. The dominant floodplain vegetation is suffering severe decline in health, with approximately 80% of floodplain trees reported as being in poor condition or dead. A reduction in water availability from reduced flooding and soil salinisation, has been identified as the primary cause. This has resulted from large irrigation extractions across the Murray-Darling Basin and elevated saline groundwater levels due to river regulation and land clearance. Management of these ecosystems needs to address both surface and groundwater changes. Increasing flooding regimes from environmental flow management and lowering of groundwater in regions of shallow saline aquifers are the most common scenarios adopted world-wide. Traditionally the assessment of management options for floodplain habitats has focussed on changes in river flow with no consideration given to surface water and groundwater interactions. In addition groundwater has been treated as a single homogenous unit. Wide floodplains have high spatial variability of habitats due to historic meandering anabranch creek systems that cause changing elevations and soil types. This in turn creates a highly variable pattern of surface and groundwater interactions. This thesis investigates the major causes of floodplain tree decline and develops methods for predicting the spatial impacts on floodplain tree health from a range of management scenarios. Surface and groundwater changes are often highly inter-connected but are usually considered separately at regional scales because of the complexity of management and modelling of surface and groundwater interactions over large areas. This thesis addresses the surface and groundwater changes at the regional scale of the lower River Murray. A floodplain inundation model for the River Murray (RiM-FIM) is developed to predict the extent of flooding at various magnitudes of flow and river regulation and a ‘drought index’ was used to indicate the risk to floodplain tree health of changing flow regimes. A floodplain impacts model (FIP) was applied spatially to predict groundwater discharge onto the floodplain and model vegetation risk. At the floodplain scale, surface and groundwater need to be integrated to assess detailed management scenarios. This thesis develops a method for assessing soil water availability from surface and groundwater interactions using a spatial and temporal model of salt accumulation and recharge (WINDS). This model is then used to predict floodplain tree health. The thesis contributes to the science of floodplain processes and develops a number of innovative modelling techniques for predicting the spatial variability of floodplain tree impacts, improving on traditional broad assessment methods. The tools are applicable to other saline semi-arid rivers and are useful for environmental flow and groundwater management decision making.
Advisor: Lewis, Megan Mary
Walker, Glen
Dissertation Note: Thesis (Ph.D.) -- University of Adelaide, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, 2013
Keywords: modelling; environmental flows; groundwater; floodplain; management; tree health; salinisation; River Murray; GIS; remote sensing
Provenance: Copyright material removed from digital thesis. See print copy in University of Adelaide Library for full text.
Appears in Collections:Research Theses

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