Tidal amplification and river capture in response to land reclamation in the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta

At a global scale, intertidal areas are being reclaimed for agriculture as well as urban expansion, imposing high human pressure on the coastal zone. The Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta (GBD) is an exponent of this development. In this delta, land reclamation accelerated in the 1960's to 1980's, when polders were constructed in areas subject to regular marine flooding. A comprehensive analysis of tidal channel evolution in the southwest GBD reveals how land reclamation leads to tidal amplification, channel shoaling, bank erosion, and interaction be-tween channels in which one tidal river captures the storage area of a neighbouring river. We identify-two positive feedback mechanisms that govern these morphological changes. First, reclaiming intertidal areas re-sults in immediate loss of tidal storage, which leads to amplification and faster propagation of the tides. In systems with abundant sediment supply, the blind tidal channels progressively fill in with sediment, leading to a continued loss of tidal storage and therefore further distorting the tides. Secondly, when intertidal areas of parallel (and inter-connected) river delta distributaries are asynchronously or unevenly reclaimed, one channel distributary may expand its intertidal area at the expense of the other. This is initiated by an increasing prop-agation speed of the tidal wave in the partially reclaimed distributary, travelling into the non-reclaimed dis-tributary through connecting channels. These connecting channels progressively expand while the pristine channel shoals, and potentially degenerates. Both positive feedback loops are very stable and are responsible for pluvial flooding of polders, large-scale bank erosion, and poorly navigable primary waterways, including the navigation channel accessing Bangladesh's second-largest port. Interventions aiming to solve these problems have to account for the complex positive feedback mechanisms identified in this paper and be nature-based and holistic.
van Maren, D. S.; Beemster, J. G. W.; Wang, Z. B.; Khan, Z. H.; Schrijvershof, R. A.; Hoitink, A. J. F.