Magdalena River Basin (Colombia)

Natural Environment

The Magdalena Basin is an Andean basin located in the west of Colombia between three north-south oriented mountain ranges, the Western, Central, and Eastern Cordilleras. The drainage basin area covers 257 438 km2, 24% of the country territory.  It reaches from the Andes at >3800 m a.s.l. in the south-west of the country to the coast of the Caribbean Sea in the north-east. The system is characterized by significant elevation differences which range from the sea level to the highest point of 5.617 m a.s.l. (Pico Colombia).

The Magdalena River is the largest river system of Colombia, with a length of 1528 km. The river originates at an elevation of 3685 m a.s.l. in the lagoon of Magdalena, located in the Páramo de las Papas (1°56′3’N; 76°36′29’W) and empties into the Caribbean Sea in the Metropolitan Area of Barranquilla (11°7′0′N; 74°51′0′W) (Guiterrez-Bonilla et al., 2011).


The geology of the Magdalena Basin consists of a variety of rock formations ranging in age from Palaeozoic to Tertiary as well as recent quaternary alluvial, colluvial and glacial deposits. Geological formation of the catchment divides it into five zones: the upper, medium and low basin, the Mompóx Depression with the Magdalena River Delta and the Cauca-Patía Basin. The upper basin primary consists of older Palaeozoic igneous and metamorphic rocks. In the eastern part of the upper catchment dominate recent Quaternary alluvial deposits and pyroclastic material of volcanic origin. Igneous and metamorphic rocks continue in the middle basin altering with lacustrine and colluvial deposits in Eastern Cordillera. The lower part of the basin is formed by marine sediments. In the Magdalena delta, located between the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta massif and the coastal relief of the San Jacinto Belt, Tertiary alluvial deposits and magmatic and metamorphic rocks dominate the lithology. The whole catchment area is characterized by landslide activity and high tectonic activity. (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, 2015)


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