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Climate Change Can Impact River Ecosystems All Over The World: Recent Study

  • A research conducted by the universities of Hull, Aberystwyth, and Salford and the engineering consultants "Architecture, Engineering, Consulting, Operations, and Maintenance" (AECOM) has stated that climate change can impact fragile river ecosystems all over the world.

    The research was undertaken in South Africa's Kruger National Park (KNP) as part of a Natural Environmental Research Council (UK) funded project. The researchers used laser survey technology (LiDAR) flown from an aircraft, to measure the impacts of cyclone-driven extreme floods in 2000 and 2012 on rivers in the KNP. The results of the survey have shown that increasing frequency of cyclone-driven extreme floods is responsible for destroying some of the world's most sensitive and valuable riverine habitats.

    Dr. David Milan, University of Hull, principal investigator for the project said, "We are primarily interested in trying to understand how these large bedrock-influenced river channels respond to large floods. From comparing our LiDAR models between 2012 and 2004, we have calculated that the 2012 event alone removed almost 1.25 million tonnes of sediment from the river bed. We also found that patches of mature riparian forest that survived larger floods in 2000 were removed by the 2012 floods. There is a suggestion that the frequency of large flood events is increasing due to climate change, and our analysis of river channel morphology for a 50 km length of the Sabie River shows us that these rivers need time spans longer than a decade to recover."

    Dr. Milan continued, "We present a conceptual model showing the likely pathways that the KNP river systems are likely to follow in the future depending upon flood frequency and magnitude, and conclude by suggesting that more frequent floods will continue to strip out sediment and vegetation from the river channel, leaving a more barren environment with less habitat value. Continued progressive loss of habitat diversity will fundamentally, and for all intents and purposes irreversibly, alters our riverine landscapes and this will be accompanied by a catastrophic loss of species unable to adapt to the new environments. Conservationists need to work alongside geomorphologists to look at ways in which dry land river habitats can be best managed into the future."