Original paper

Spatial and temporal variability of river flows in the degraded semi-arid tropical mountains of northern Ethiopia

Zenebe, Amanuel; Vanmaercke, Matthias; Poesen, Jean; Verstraeten, Gert; Haregeweyn, Nigussie; Haile, Mitiku; Amare, Kassa; Deckers, Jozef; Nyssen, Jan

Abstract

Water availability has for long been a critical issue in many developing countries. Despite its enormous potential of water resources, Ethiopia is suffering from a lack of water availability and threatened by the consequences of climate change. Well-considered planning to develop these resources is crucial. However, very few observational runoff data exist for this type of environments. Especially runoff data for catchments at the intermediate scale (100-10,000 km2) are lacking. This study assesses the runoff from 10 medium-sized catchments in the Geba river basin, a subcatchment of the Nile in the semi-arid degraded northern Ethiopian highlands. Flow depth records were automatically obtained every 10 minutes during the rainy seasons (July-September) of 2004-2007 and converted to continuous runoff discharge records. Cumulative annual runoff depths (46-395 mm) are mainly correlated with rainfall depth. Estimated runoff coefficients (9-47%) and are negatively correlated with the areal fraction of limestone outcrops in the catchments, indicating runoff transmission losses. Throughout the rainy season, increases in runoff depth and runoff coefficient were observed, which is partly attributed to an increase in baseflow throughout the season. The majority of the runoff occurs during flash floods, i.e. relatively short runoff events with often very high peak discharges. Characteristics of these floods are discussed with some examples, including an exceptionally large flood. Taking into account the difficult conditions for river discharge measurements, this study provides one of the most comprehensive analyses so far of the magnitude and dynamics of river discharges in Ethiopia.

Keywords

river dischargerunoff coefficientsflash floodgebanilesoil and water conservation