Modelling blackwater: predicting water quality during flooding of lowland river forests

Julia A. Howitt, Darren S. Baldwin, Gavin N. Rees, Janice L. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Citations (Scopus)


The blackwater model was developed to predict adverse water quality associated with flooding of the Barmah-Millewa Forests on the River Murray. Specifically, the model examines the likelihood and severity of blackwater events'high dissolved organic carbon associated with low dissolved oxygen. The Barmah-Millewa Forests are dominated by an overstorey of River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) and the litter from these trees contributes a substantial proportion of the pulse of dissolved organic matter released from the floodplain during flooding. This model examines rates of litter accumulation and decay on the floodplain (prior to and during flooding), rates of carbon leaching, microbial degradation, oxygen consumption, reaeration processes and the effects of flow on the concentrations of dissolved organic carbon and dissolved oxygen in the water column (both on the floodplain and in the river channel downstream). The model has been calibrated with data from two blackwater events that have taken place in these forests within the last 5 years. Scenario testing with the model highlights the particularly important roles of flow and temperature in the development of anoxia. Pooled floods and those in the warmest months of the year are substantially more likely to result in blackwater events than floods in cooler times of the year and involving more water exchange between the river channel and the floodplain.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-242
Number of pages14
JournalEcological Modelling
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - May 2007


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