The historical and palaeoflood record of Katherine River, northern Australia: evaluating the likelihood of extreme discharge events in the context of the 1998 flood

P.J. Sandercock, Karl-Heinz Wyrwoll

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14 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The discharge regimes of the large rivers of northern Australia are characterized by the occurrence of extreme flood events with far-reaching environmental and societal impacts. In January 1998 the largest flood ever recorded on the Katherine River, northern Australia, resulted in widespread inundation and resultant damage to the town of Katherine. The occurrence of the flood emphasized the unreliability of the then available flood probability estimates and prompted a palaeoflood approach to estimate the recurrence interval of the event. The location of Katherine is ideal for such a study, as the town is located immediately downstream from Katherine Gorge, which provides the necessary bedrock-confined channel required for such an approach. In addition, previous work in Katherine Gorge had demonstrated that the gorge sections hold suitable deposits for palaeoflood stage reconstruction. The results of the present study show that at least two flow events with discharges similar to the 1998 flood have occurred within the last 600 years, and that high-magnitude floods are a general feature of the discharge record of the Katherine River over the last c. 2000 years. Furthermore, because the study was undertaken within a few months of the occurrence of the 1998 flood, it provided the opportunity to evaluate the previously obtained flood discharge estimates and draw attention to the general uncertainties associated with palaeoflood studies. Our results emphasize that palaeoflood stage estimates based on slackwater deposits need to be treated as conservative estimates only. More specifically, with respect to the 1998 event, our study demonstrates that the controls of flood peak were more complex than simply flood routing through the gorge sections. It is clear that the areas downstream from Katherine Gorge made an important contribution to the flood peak of the 1998 event. Copyright (c) 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4107-4120
JournalHydrological Processes
Volume19
Issue number20
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2005

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