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Concept: Drainage basin


True river dolphins are some of the rarest and most endangered of all vertebrates. They comprise relict evolutionary lineages of high taxonomic distinctness and conservation value, but are afforded little protection. We report the discovery of a new species of a river dolphin from the Araguaia River basin of Brazil, the first such discovery in nearly 100 years. The species is diagnosable by a series of molecular and morphological characters and diverged from its Amazonian sister taxon 2.08 million years ago. The estimated time of divergence corresponds to the separation of the Araguaia-Tocantins basin from the Amazon basin. This discovery highlights the immensity of the deficit in our knowledge of Neotropical biodiversity, as well as vulnerability of biodiversity to anthropogenic actions in an increasingly threatened landscape. We anticipate that this study will provide an impetus for the taxonomic and conservation reanalysis of other taxa shared between the Araguaia and Amazon aquatic ecosystems, as well as stimulate historical biogeographical analyses of the two basins.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Species, Ecology, Drainage basin, Amazon River, Brazil, Amazon Basin, Amazon Rainforest


A large region of low-dissolved-oxygen bottom waters (hypoxia) forms nearly every summer in the northern Gulf of Mexico because of nutrient inputs from the Mississippi River Basin and water column stratification. Policymakers developed goals to reduce the area of hypoxic extent because of its ecological, economic, and commercial fisheries impacts. However, the goals remain elusive after 30 y of research and monitoring and 15 y of goal-setting and assessment because there has been little change in river nitrogen concentrations. An intergovernmental Task Force recently extended to 2035 the deadline for achieving the goal of a 5,000-km(2) 5-y average hypoxic zone and set an interim load target of a 20% reduction of the spring nitrogen loading from the Mississippi River by 2025 as part of their adaptive management process. The Task Force has asked modelers to reassess the loading reduction required to achieve the 2035 goal and to determine the effect of the 20% interim load reduction. Here, we address both questions using a probabilistic ensemble of four substantially different hypoxia models. Our results indicate that, under typical weather conditions, a 59% reduction in Mississippi River nitrogen load is required to reduce hypoxic area to 5,000 km(2) The interim goal of a 20% load reduction is expected to produce an 18% reduction in hypoxic area over the long term. However, due to substantial interannual variability, a 25% load reduction is required before there is 95% certainty of observing any hypoxic area reduction between consecutive 5-y assessment periods.

Concepts: Drainage basin, Florida, Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi River, Rio Grande


The increasing impact of both climatic change and human activities on global river systems necessitates an increasing need to identify and quantify the various drivers and their impacts on fluvial water and sediment discharge. Here we show that mean Yangtze River water discharge of the first decade after the closing of the Three Gorges Dam (TGD) (2003-2012) was 67 km(3)/yr (7%) lower than that of the previous 50 years (1950-2002), and 126 km(3)/yr less compared to the relatively wet period of pre-TGD decade (1993-2002). Most (60-70%) of the decline can be attributed to decreased precipitation, the remainder resulting from construction of reservoirs, improved water-soil conservation and increased water consumption. Mean sediment flux decreased by 71% between 1950-1968 and the post-TGD decade, about half of which occurred prior to the pre-TGD decade. Approximately 30% of the total decline and 65% of the decline since 2003 can be attributed to the TGD, 5% and 14% of these declines to precipitation change, and the remaining to other dams and soil conservation within the drainage basin. These findings highlight the degree to which changes in riverine water and sediment discharge can be related with multiple environmental and anthropogenic factors.

Concepts: Drainage basin, Yangtze River, Chongqing, Dam, Three Gorges Dam, Hubei, Three Gorges, Yichang


The simulation abilities of the Coupled Model Inter-comparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) models to the arid basin (the Tarim River Basin, TRB) and humid basin (the Yangtze River Basin, YRB) were evaluated, determining the response of precipitation to external changes over typical basins. Our study shows that the future temporal and spatial variation characteristics of precipitation are different in different regions with the CMIP5. The annual and seasonal changes in precipitation were analyzed for the RCP2.6, RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 during 2021~2100 compared to those during 1961~2005. Precipitation shows an increasing trend in the TRB, but which decreases and then increases in the YRB, with a turning point in the middle of twenty-first Century. The ranges in annual precipitation increase with the increase in the scenario emissions in the future. Note that the Tarim River Basin is more vulnerable to the impact of emissions, especially for annual or spring and winter precipitation. Based on the uncertainty of CMIP5 data, the links between future precipitation changes and the elevation and relief amplitude were evaluated. The change of precipitation decreases with elevation, relief amplitude in the TRB, while it increases with elevation but decreases with relief amplitude in the YRB.

Concepts: Water, Precipitation, Drainage basin, Yangtze River, Humid continental climate, Tarim River, Geography of China, Tarim Basin


Andes-to-Amazon river connectivity controls numerous natural and human systems in the greater Amazon. However, it is being rapidly altered by a wave of new hydropower development, the impacts of which have been previously underestimated. We document 142 dams existing or under construction and 160 proposed dams for rivers draining the Andean headwaters of the Amazon. Existing dams have fragmented the tributary networks of six of eight major Andean Amazon river basins. Proposed dams could result in significant losses in river connectivity in river mainstems of five of eight major systems-the Napo, Marañón, Ucayali, Beni, and Mamoré. With a newly reported 671 freshwater fish species inhabiting the Andean headwaters of the Amazon (>500 m), dams threaten previously unrecognized biodiversity, particularly among endemic and migratory species. Because Andean rivers contribute most of the sediment in the mainstem Amazon, losses in river connectivity translate to drastic alteration of river channel and floodplain geomorphology and associated ecosystem services.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Hydrology, River, Drainage basin, Stream, Amazon River, Freshwater, Geomorphology


Late Quaternary separation of Britain from mainland Europe is considered to be a consequence of spillover of a large proglacial lake in the Southern North Sea basin. Lake spillover is inferred to have caused breaching of a rock ridge at the Dover Strait, although this hypothesis remains untested. Here we show that opening of the Strait involved at least two major episodes of erosion. Sub-bottom records reveal a remarkable set of sediment-infilled depressions that are deeply incised into bedrock that we interpret as giant plunge pools. These support a model of initial erosion of the Dover Strait by lake overspill, plunge pool erosion by waterfalls and subsequent dam breaching. Cross-cutting of these landforms by a prominent bedrock-eroded valley that is characterized by features associated with catastrophic flooding indicates final breaching of the Strait by high-magnitude flows. These events set-up conditions for island Britain during sea-level highstands and caused large-scale re-routing of NW European drainage.

Concepts: Continent, United Kingdom, Drainage basin, Europe, Pleistocene, Geomorphology, English Channel, Strait of Dover


Increased catchment erosion and nutrient loading are commonly recognized impacts of deforestation on global wetlands. In contrast, an increase in water availability in deforested catchments is well known in modern studies but is rarely considered when evaluating past human impacts. We used a Budyko water balance approach, a meta-analysis of global wetland response to deforestation, and paleoecological studies from Australasia to explore this issue. After complete deforestation, we demonstrated that water available to wetlands increases by up to 15% of annual precipitation. This can convert ephemeral swamps to permanent lakes or even create new wetlands. This effect is globally significant, with 9 to 12% of wetlands affected, including 20 to 40% of Ramsar wetlands, but is widely unrecognized because human impact studies rarely test for it.

Concepts: Water, Soil, Wetland, Hydrology, Water cycle, Drainage basin, Wetlands, Ramsar Convention


Increased energy demand has led to plans for building many new dams in the western Amazon, mostly in the Andean region. Historical data and mechanistic scenarios are used to examine potential impacts above and below six of the largest dams planned for the region, including reductions in downstream sediment and nutrient supplies, changes in downstream flood pulse, changes in upstream and downstream fish yields, reservoir siltation, greenhouse gas emissions and mercury contamination. Together, these six dams are predicted to reduce the supply of sediments, phosphorus and nitrogen from the Andean region by 69, 67 and 57% and to the entire Amazon basin by 64, 51 and 23%, respectively. These large reductions in sediment and nutrient supplies will have major impacts on channel geomorphology, floodplain fertility and aquatic productivity. These effects will be greatest near the dams and extend to the lowland floodplains. Attenuation of the downstream flood pulse is expected to alter the survival, phenology and growth of floodplain vegetation and reduce fish yields below the dams. Reservoir filling times due to siltation are predicted to vary from 106-6240 years, affecting the storage performance of some dams. Total CO2 equivalent carbon emission from 4 Andean dams was expected to average 10 Tg y-1 during the first 30 years of operation, resulting in a MegaWatt weighted Carbon Emission Factor of 0.139 tons C MWhr-1. Mercury contamination in fish and local human populations is expected to increase both above and below the dams creating significant health risks. Reservoir fish yields will compensate some downstream losses, but increased mercury contamination could offset these benefits.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, River, Drainage basin, Natural gas, Methane, Greenhouse gas, Emission standard, Global warming potential


Assessing reliability of global models is critical because of increasing reliance on these models to address past and projected future climate and human stresses on global water resources. Here, we evaluate model reliability based on a comprehensive comparison of decadal trends (2002-2014) in land water storage from seven global models (WGHM, PCR-GLOBWB, GLDAS NOAH, MOSAIC, VIC, CLM, and CLSM) to trends from three Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite solutions in 186 river basins (∼60% of global land area). Medians of modeled basin water storage trends greatly underestimate GRACE-derived large decreasing (≤-0.5 km3/y) and increasing (≥0.5 km3/y) trends. Decreasing trends from GRACE are mostly related to human use (irrigation) and climate variations, whereas increasing trends reflect climate variations. For example, in the Amazon, GRACE estimates a large increasing trend of ∼43 km3/y, whereas most models estimate decreasing trends (-71 to 11 km3/y). Land water storage trends, summed over all basins, are positive for GRACE (∼71-82 km3/y) but negative for models (-450 to -12 km3/y), contributing opposing trends to global mean sea level change. Impacts of climate forcing on decadal land water storage trends exceed those of modeled human intervention by about a factor of 2. The model-GRACE comparison highlights potential areas of future model development, particularly simulated water storage. The inability of models to capture large decadal water storage trends based on GRACE indicates that model projections of climate and human-induced water storage changes may be underestimated.

Concepts: Human, Water, Sea level, Drainage basin, Amazon River, Ocean, Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment


Navigating trade-offs between meeting societal water needs and supporting functioning ecosystems is integral to river management policy. Emerging frameworks provide the opportunity to consider multiple river uses explicitly, but balancing multiple priorities remains challenging. Here we quantify relationships between hydrologic regimes and the abundance of multiple native and nonnative fish species over 18 years in a large, dryland river basin in southwestern United States. These models were incorporated into a multi-objective optimization framework to design dam operation releases that balance human water needs with the dual conservation targets of benefiting native fishes while disadvantaging nonnative fishes. Predicted designer flow prescriptions indicate significant opportunities to favor native over nonnative fishes while rarely, if ever, encroaching on human water needs. The predicted benefits surpass those generated by natural flow mimicry, and were retained across periods of heightened drought. We provide a quantitative illustration of theoretical predictions that designer flows can offer multiple ecological and societal benefits in human-altered rivers.

Concepts: Scientific method, Water, Hydrology, River, Drainage basin, Flood, Rivers, Geomorphology