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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER)
Cycle 4 (2015 Deadline)

Satellite-based estimations of river discharge into the Cartagena Bay, Caribbean Colombia: Capacity building to mitigate sources of upstream runoff and associated risks of pollution

PI: Juan D. Restrepo (, Universidad EAFIT
U.S. Partner: Robert Brakenridge, University of Colorado
Project Dates: October 2015 - September 2018

Project Overview

4-70 Q4 2016 RestrepoJuan Restrepo (Project PI, center) during the post
Dr. Restrepo (center) during the poster session at AGU Fall 2016 with U.S. partners Albert Kettner (left), Associate Director of the Darmouth Flood Observatory-UC and Professor James Syvitski, Director of the CSDMS at University of Colorado

The city of Cartagena and its bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, have a limited capacity for water resource management, as evident in the degradation of coastal water quality. The greatest source of pollution to the bay and the adjacent Rosario Islands National Marine Park is the Dique Canal, which drains 7% of the country’s largest river, the Magdalena. During the last six decades, coastal fisheries and ecosystems (sea grasses and coral reefs, for example) have almost disappeared, and Cartagena Bay is considered one of the Caribbean Region´s “hot spots” of pollution due to human-induced stressors impacting water quality and ecosystems services. Colombia and its national public environmental institutions have not previously used near real-time satellite observing systems, but this PEER project is aimed at generating near real-time satellite river data for the region by deriving time series of streamflow and flooding extent data. The main goals include (1) estimating river discharge from the Dique Canal-Magdalena River system into Cartagena Bay by applying satellite-derived measurements; (2) relating the constructed river flow series since 1998 to identify climate variability and human impacts for the Magdalena River basin; (3) making satellite-based data available as GIS files so they can be incorporated into end-user decision-support systems; and (4) developing capacity building for implementing satellite-based river freshwater estimations in environmental decision making in Cartagena Bay.

Findings on Cartagena Bay’s pollution and its current inadequacy for recreational use and fish consumption are widely known within the scientific community. In addition, lack of reliable data on freshwater discharge flowing into the bay has limited detailed modeling and applied science on how river fluxes impact physical and chemical characteristics of coastal waters. The ambiguity of the problem means that mitigation strategies are lacking. This PEER project team aims to have a significant impact by generating a clearer and more precise foundation of knowledge on continental runoff fluxes and related marine pollution problems, which could thus inform the development of adaptive strategies at both the community and political level. The planned collaboration between the Dartmouth Flood Observatory at the University of Colorado and EAFIT University-Colombia, the latter with its current project in the region, BASIC-Cartagena (Basin Sea Interaction with Communities), will serve as a joint effort in strengthening the capacity of regional stakeholders to integrate geospatial and satellite products into development and decision making, with the final goal of improving environmental management for Cartagena Bay.

Summary of Recent Activities

4-70 Restrepo US visit 2017
PI Juan Restrepo (left) Prof.James Syvitski, Director of the CSDMS Research Group (center), and Albert Kettner, Research Scientist and co-Director of the Dartmouth Flood Observatory at CSDMS-U Colorado Boulder (right) [Photo courtesy of Dr. Restrepo]

The adjusted scientific agenda of the project is to use the capacity building in terms of satellite-based estimations of fluvial hydrology in the Magdalena, already developed in the project, to understand floodplain hydrological connectivity and how river-lagoon connections have changed during the last decades in relation to human activities.

Major developed activities during July-September 2017, include: (1) Satellite signal processing for new sites in the Barbacoas lagoon and its stream connection with the Magdalena River Joint Research Centre (JRC). Nine new sites for satellite signal processing were already processed by the Joint Research Centre (JRC). The information is now available at
The processed data of these stations now include flood magnitudes of each site since June 2002, and flood magnitudes for each site during the 2014-2017 period. (2) The above-mentioned data have been already included in the Darmouth Flood Observatory-DFO system at
Supplemental activity with policy makers and stakeholders: a workshop entitled "Introducing to Satellite Based Discharge Stations and Flood Monitoring Systems"  which is intended for policymakers, decision makers, end users, and stakeholders from Colombia and Latin America, will be organized and is estimated to take place during March 2018 at EAFIT University in Colombia, as a joint effort of the supported DFO-EAFIT PEER project and the project of the Dartmouth Flood Observatory and the GeoSUR Program, “Mapping of Flood Events and Estimation of River Flow for Latin America and the Caribbean”.  

By joining both projects’ efforts, the convening workshop will focus on how to better understand and use the DFO platform, as well as ingest some of the DFO data directly into their local GIS and decision making analyses. The goals of the workshop will be to: (1) demonstrate what water related satellite derived data is available; (2) seek experience feedback of the DFO and GeoSUR portals; (3) present data applications in terms of water discharge variability, flood risk assessments, and river floodplain ecological connectivity; (4) ingest some of the DFO data directly into participants local GIS; (5) get feedback from end users on what additional water related data participants would need in applied science and policy making or what could be modified such that it fits the need better for the end user; (6) share the results and data platforms of both projects with students and scientists working on water-related issues. 

The ongoing phase of the project is focused on developing an understanding of floodplain connectivity in the Magdalena River. The DFO satellite signal data already
processed in the project  will be analyzed and compared with the data obtained from the pressure sensor. This information will allow us to generate a correlation model between the areas of floodplain inundation versus water level. This model will allow us to reconstruct the history of fluvial connectivity in the Barbacoas lagoon. The results obtained at this site will develop for the first time, a model applying satellite time series of stream flow and flood extent data to understand the hydrologic mechanisms of floodplain connectivity
Future plans: In order to accomplish the goals of analyzing connectivity among the floodplain complexes and the Magdalena River, further activities during the coming three months are: (1) Satellite signal analysis for the nine new sites in the Barbacoas lagoon and its stream connection with the Magdalena River; (2) Calibration between satellite signal and measured river discharge at ground gauging stations at nearby location; (3) Conducting a second field trip between October 30 and November 3 to recover the pressure sensor
logger in the Barbacoas lagoon system and conduct other analysis of water discharge and suspended sediments. This field trip was re-scheduled due to time availability of some research assistants at EAFIT University.  
4-70 First day meeting at a local restaurant in Puerto Berrio for planning 4-70_Arrival to Barbacoas’ lagoon entrance 4-70_Q4 2016 RestrepoSonnlist level logger and its support previous to its deplo
First day meeting at a local restaurant in Puerto Berrio for planning the trip to the Barbacoas lagoon.
 Arrival to Barbacoas’ lagoon entrance. Other boats of local fishermen were looking for a
good fishing day in the lagoon
Sonnlist level logger and its support previous to its deployment at the Barbacoas lagoon entrance.

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