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Title: Human activities change suspended sediment concentration along rivers

Humans have drastically disrupted the global sediment cycle. Suspended sediment flux and concentration are key controls over both river morphology and river ecosystems. Our ability to understand sediment dynamics within river corridors is limited by observations. Here, we present RivSed, a database of satellite observations of suspended sediment concentration (SSC) from 1984 to 2018 across 460 large (>60 m wide) US rivers that provides a new, spatially explicit view of river sediment. We found that 32% of US rivers have a declining temporal trend in sediment concentration, with a mean reduction of 40% since 1984, whereas only 2% have an increasing trend. Most rivers (52%) show decreasing sediment concentration longitudinally moving downstream, typically due to a few large dams rather than the accumulated effect of many small dams. Comparing our observations with modeled ‘pre-dam’ longitudinal SSC, most rivers (53%) show different patterns. However, contemporary longitudinal patterns in concentration are remarkably stable from year to year since 1984, with more stability in large, highly managed rivers with less cropland. RivSed has broad applications for river geomorphology and ecology and highlights anthropogenic effects on river corridors across the US.

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Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Environmental Research Letters
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
Article No. 064032
IOP Publishing
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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