A regional coupled surface water/groundwater model of the Okavango Delta, Botswana

Peter Bauer-Gottwein, T. Gumbricht, W. Kinzelbach

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


    In the endorheic Okavango River system in southern Africa a balance between human and environmental water demands has to be achieved. The runoff generated in the humid tropical highlands of Angola flows through arid Namibia and Botswana before forming a large inland delta and eventually being consumed by evapotranspiration. With an approximate size of about 30,000 km(2), the Okavango Delta is the world's largest site protected under the convention on wetlands of international importance, signed in 1971 in Ramsar, Iran. The extended wetlands of the Okavango Delta, which sustain a rich ecology, spectacular wildlife, and a first- class tourism infrastructure, depend on the combined effect of the highly seasonal runoff in the Okavango River and variable local climate. The annual fluctuations in the inflow are transformed into vast areas of seasonally inundated floodplains. Water abstraction and reservoir building in the upstream countries are expected to reduce and/ or redistribute the available flows for the Okavango Delta ecosystem. To study the impacts of upstream and local interventions, a large- scale ( 1 km(2) grid), coupled surface water/ groundwater model has been developed. It is composed of a surface water flow component based on the diffusive wave approximation of the Saint- Venant equations, a groundwater component, and a relatively simple vadose zone component for calculating the net water exchange between land and atmosphere. The numerical scheme is based on the groundwater simulation software MODFLOW- 96. Since the primary model output is the spatiotemporal distribution of flooded areas and since hydrologic data on the large and inaccessible floodplains and tributaries are sparse and unreliable, the model was not calibrated with point hydrographs but with a time series of flooding patterns derived from satellite imagery ( NOAA advanced very high resolution radiometer). Scenarios were designed to study major upstream and local interventions and their expected impacts in the Delta. The scenarios' results can help decision makers strike a balance between environmental and human water demands in the basin.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalWater Resources Research
    Issue number4
    Pages (from-to)W04403/1-W04403/15
    Publication statusPublished - 2006


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