The climate and hydrology of the Upper Blue Nile River

Declan Conway

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The Upper Blue Nile river basin is the largest in Ethiopia in terms of volume of discharge, second largest in terms of area, and contributes over 50 per cent of the long-term river flow of the Main Nile. This paper provides a review of the nature and variability of the climate and hydrology in the source region of the Blue Nile-the central Ethiopian Highlands. Annual rainfall over the basin decreases from the south-west (>2000 mm) to the north-east (around 1000 mm), with about 70 per cent occurring between June and September. A basin-wide time series of annual rainfall constructed from 11 gauges for the period 1900 to 1998 has a mean of 1421millimetres, minimum in 1913 (1148 mm) and maximum in 1903 (1757 mm). Rainfall over the basin showed a marked decrease between the mid-1960s and the late 1980s and dry years show a degree of association with low values of the Southern Oscillation Index (Sol). The October to February dry season in 1997/98 was the wettest on record and responsible for widespread flooding across Ethiopia and also parts of Somalia and Kenya. Available river flow records, which are sparse and of limited duration, are presented for the Blue Nile and its tributaries upstream of the border with Sudan. Runoff over the basin amounts to 45.9 cubic kilometres (equivalent to 1456 m3s−1) discharge, or 261 millimetre depth (1961–1990), a runoff ratio of 18 per cent. Between 1900 and 1997 annual river flow has ranged from 20.6 cubic kilometres (1913) to 79.0 cubic kilometres (1909), and the lowest decade-mean flow was 37.9 cubic kilometres from 1978 to 1987. Annual river flow, like rainfall, shows a strong association with the SOI.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-62
Number of pages14
JournalThe Geographical Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2000

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