Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences
RESEARCH ARTICLE (Open Access)

Have droughts and increased water extraction from the Murray River (Australia) reduced coastal ocean productivity?

Hannah C. C. Auricht A B , Kenneth D. Clarke A , Megan M. Lewis A and Luke M. Mosley A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A School of Biological Sciences, University of Adelaide, SA 5005, Australia.

B Corresponding author. Email: hannah.auricht@adelaide.edu.au

Marine and Freshwater Research 69(3) 343-356 https://doi.org/10.1071/MF17226
Submitted: 26 July 2017  Accepted: 9 October 2017   Published: 7 December 2017

CSIRO 2018 Open Access CC BY-NC-ND

Abstract

River discharges are decreasing in many regions of the world; however, the consequences of this on water quality and primary productivity of receiving coastal oceans are largely unclear. We analysed satellite remote-sensing data (MODIS) of the coastal ocean zone that receives outflows from the Murray River, from 2002 to 2016. This system has experienced historical flow reductions and a recent extreme hydrological ‘Millennium’ drought. Remotely sensed chlorophyll-a and particulate organic carbon in the coastal ocean were strongly correlated with river outflows (R2 > 0.6) in an 8-km radial buffer zone from the Murray Mouth, and the river influence extended up to ~60 km from the Murray Mouth during high-flow periods. This distance was approximately three times greater than the freshwater plume extent during maximum flows in 2011, suggesting that new primary productivity was created. In contrast, there was no additional coastal ocean productivity above background levels from 2007 to 2010 when river outflows ceased. Hindcast calculations based on historical flows from 1962 to 2002 suggest that declining Murray River flows have greatly reduced primary productivity in adjacent coastal waters. This has potential consequences for higher trophic levels and should be considered in future management planning.

Additional keywords: climate change, MODIS, primary productivity, river outflows.


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