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Mahakam River

Coordinates: 0°35′S 117°17′E / 0.583°S 117.283°E / -0.583; 117.283
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Mahakam River at Samarinda
ProvinceEast Kalimantan
Towns/CitiesSamarinda, Tenggarong, Sebulu, Muara Kaman, Kotabangun, Melak, Long Iram
Physical characteristics
 • locationIndonesia
 • elevation1,681 m (5,515 ft)
MouthMakassar Strait
 • location
 • coordinates
0°35′6″S 117°16′33″E / 0.58500°S 117.27583°E / -0.58500; 117.27583
 • elevation
0 m (0 ft)
Length980 km (610 mi)
Basin size77,095 km2 (29,767 sq mi)
 • minimum145 m (476 ft)
 • maximum1,260 m (4,130 ft)
 • average8 m (26 ft) to 15 m (49 ft)
 • maximum45 m (148 ft)
 • locationMahakam Delta, Makassar Strait
 • average(Period: 2016–2020)5,953 m3/s (210,200 cu ft/s)[1]

(Period: 2003–2016)4,278 m3/s (151,100 cu ft/s)[2] (Period: 1970–2000)123 km3/a (3,900 m3/s)[3]

4,560 m3/s (161,000 cu ft/s)[4]
 • locationMuara Mahakam Samarinda (66 km upstream of mouth - Basin size 74,358 km2 (28,710 sq mi))
 • average5,000 m3/s (180,000 cu ft/s)[5]
 • maximum(Year: 2012)24,156 m3/s (853,100 cu ft/s)(Tenggarong)
 • locationMelak (Basin size: 25,700 km2 (9,900 sq mi))[6]
 • average2,500 m3/s (88,000 cu ft/s)[5] 2,000 m3/s (71,000 cu ft/s)
 • maximum28,250 m3/s (998,000 cu ft/s) 3,250 m3/s (115,000 cu ft/s)
Basin features
River systemMahakam basin (DAS330236)[7]
 • leftMelaseh, Tepai, Nyaan, Boh, Medang, Pariq, Muyub, Pela, Belayan, Telen, Kedang Rantau
 • rightUsok, Danum Parae, Kosso, Cihar, Ratah, Kedang Pahu, Bongan, Jembayan
Kalimantan is located in Kalimantan
Mahakam River in Kalimantan

The Mahakam River (Indonesian: Sungai Mahakam) is third longest and volume discharge river in Borneo after Kapuas River and Barito River, it is located in Kalimantan, Indonesia. It flows 980 kilometers (610 miles) from the district of Long Apari in the highlands of Borneo, to its mouth at the Makassar Strait.

The city of Samarinda, the provincial capital of East Kalimantan, lies along 48 kilometers (30 mi) from the river mouth. The delta Mahakam river consist of specific micro climate which is influenced by high and low tide at sea level.


The Mahakam River [1] is the largest river in East Kalimantan, Indonesia, with a catchment area of approximately 77,100 km2. The catchment lies between 2˚N to 1˚S latitude and 113˚E to 118˚E longitude. The river originates in Cemaru[8] from where it flows south-eastwards, meeting the River Kedang Pahu at the city of Muara Pahu. From there, the river flows eastward through the Mahakam lakes region, which is a flat tropical lowland area surrounded by peat land. Thirty shallow lakes are situated in this area, which are connected to the Mahakam through small channels [2]. Downstream of the connection with the Semayang and Melintang lakes, the Mahakam meets three other main tributaries – the rivers Belayan, Kedang Kepala, and Kedang Rantau – and flows south-eastwards through the Mahakam delta distributaries, to the Makassar Strait.


Kalimantan, where the Mahakam lies, is part of the Sunda Continental Plate. The large island has mountain ranges between Indonesia and Malaysia. As described by van Bemmelen (1949), River Mahakam rises in Cemaru (1,681 meters (5,515 feet)) in the center of Kalimantan, and from there it cuts through the pre-tertiary axis of the island east of the Batuayan (1,652 meters (5,420 ft)) and then reaches the tertiary basin of Kutai.[9] Its middle course traverses a lowland plain with many marshy lakes. This intermontane depression is separated from the neighboring basin, the Barito depression, by a broad hilly tract of less than 500 meters (1,600 ft) altitude. After this region, the Mahakam cuts through the Samarinda anticlinorium and reaches its alluvial delta, which spreads like a broad fan over the shelf-sea, with a base of 65 kilometers (40 mi) and a radius of about 30 kilometers (19 mi).[10]

Upstream of Long Iram (upstream part of Mahakam river basin), the river is flowing in tertiary rocks (Voss, 1983).[11] Between Long Iram and Muara Kaman (middle Mahakam area) the river is flowing in quaternary alluvium, while in the downstream area between Muara Kaman and the coast including the Mahakam delta, tertiary rocks are again present. The presence of the large delta is explained by the formation and rejuvenation of the hilly region near Samarinda.[12]


The Mahakam catchment is around the equator. The average annual rainfall in the catchment area is 3163 mm. The average runoff is around 1911 mm.[13] According to Köppen climate classification, this area belongs to type Af (tropical rainforest) and has a minimum temperature ≥18 °C and precipitation of the driest month in normal year ≥60 mm[14] Transfer of mass and energy in the tropical zone occurred through general air circulation known as the Hadley cell. According to Seidel et al. (2008), the precipitation pattern in this area is largely determined by this large-scale atmospheric wind pattern, which is observable in several ways throughout the atmosphere. This circulation carries moisture into the air, generating rainfall in equatorial regions, whereas the edges of the tropical belt are drier.[15] Within this circulation, evaporation occurs intensively around the equator on the center of low pressure called the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), characterized by the accumulation of clouds in the area. The ITCZ moves following the pseudo-motion of the sun within the 23.5°N and 23.5°S zone, therefore its position always changes according to this motion.

The ITCZ drives the Indo-Australian monsoon phenomena which influence the regional climate including the Mahakam catchment. In December, January, and February (winter in the Northern Hemisphere) the concentration of high pressure in Asia and low pressure in Australia make the west wind blow in Indonesia (west monsoon). In June, July, and August concentration of low pressure in Asia (summer in the Northern Hemisphere) and a concentration of high pressure in Australia make the east wind blow in Indonesia (east monsoon). Due to the global air circulation and the regional climate mentioned above, the Mahakam catchment which is located around the equator has a bimodal rainfall pattern with two peaks of rainfall, which are generally occurred in December and May. This is because the ITCZ passes through the equator twice a year, from the Northern Hemisphere in September and from the Southern Hemisphere in March.[16]


Average discharge of the Mahakam River at Melak (Upper Mahakam), Kota Bangun (Middle Mahakam) and Loa Kulu (Lower Mahakam).[17]

Year Discharge (m3/s)
Melak Kota


Loa Kulu
1994 1,564
1995 1,647
1996 2,020 2,855
1997 1,884.8
2004 1,396
2005 2,350.95 2,808.95
2007 2,109 2,791.8
2009 1,485
2010 2,022 2,823.52 5,478.5

Average monthly flow (Q–m3/s). Mahakam River at Samarinda in 2014.[18]

Month Q
JAN 4,083.38
FEB 5,863.29
MAR 5,754.92
APR 6,628.15
MAY 4,151.29
JUN 1,701.62
JUL 1,972.29
AUG 544.1
SEP 335.68
OCT 638.61
NOV 2,409.33
DEC 5,610.11
Avg. 3,307.7


Lake Melintang at Teluk Tuk with a re-growing burnt swamp forest in the background

There are about 76 lakes spread in the Mahakam river basin and about 30 lakes are located in the middle Mahakam area including the three main lakes (Lake Jempang 15,000 Ha; Lake Semayang 13,000 Ha; Lake Melintang 11,000 Ha).[19] The lake levels are seasonally fluctuated from 0.5 m – 1 m during the dry period to seven meters during the rainy season. The Mahakam lakes and surrounding wetlands act as water storage [3] as well as a trap of sediment contained in the water flowing into the lakes which are now known to become shallower, presumably as a result of an imbalance between sediment input and slow subsidence.[4]

Fishing is the primary source of livelihood in the Mahakam lakes area, most of the people around the lakes are fishermen. The middle Mahakam Lake area is an area of intensive fishing activity with a productivity of 25,000 to 35,000 metric tons per year since 1970.[5]

Mahakam Lakes[20]

Lake Coordinates Eleva-tion










size (km2)

Jempang 0°25′18.8436″S 116°15′45.3888″E / 0.421901000°S 116.262608000°E / -0.421901000; 116.262608000 1 124.36 2.8 352.83 1,012.3
Semajang 0°14′56.8788″S 116°32′6.2592″E / 0.249133000°S 116.535072000°E / -0.249133000; 116.535072000 2 104.56 1.1 117.07 2,192.9
Melintang 0°18′6.3432″S 116°24′16.992″E / 0.301762000°S 116.40472000°E / -0.301762000; 116.40472000 2 87.96 1 91.52 1,042.8
Tempatong 0°23′48.8544″S 116°21′18.954″E / 0.396904000°S 116.35526500°E / -0.396904000; 116.35526500 2 18.19 1 17.33 3,970.8
Siran 0°5′34.7928″S 116°35′46.3732″E / 0.092998000°S 116.596214778°E / -0.092998000; 116.596214778 1 15.48 1.2 17.9 139.1
Uwis 0°19′40.7244″S 116°29′16.4796″E / 0.327979000°S 116.487911000°E / -0.327979000; 116.487911000 2 7.47 1.6 11.84 282.9
Melinau 0°7′7.554″S 116°23′48.9516″E / 0.11876500°S 116.396931000°E / -0.11876500; 116.396931000 1 5.77 1.3 7.61 933.5
Murung 0°17′40.938″S 116°36′12.4416″E / 0.29470500°S 116.603456000°E / -0.29470500; 116.603456000 1 3.23 2.8 9.12 433.8
Kahoypongkol 0°9′45.5616″S 116°24′45.6408″E / 0.162656000°S 116.412678000°E / -0.162656000; 116.412678000 2 2.24 0.7 1.54 952.4
Berambai 0°1′55.9416″S 116°20′36.5928″E / 0.032206000°S 116.343498000°E / -0.032206000; 116.343498000 0 2.02 1.6 3.26 612.8
Rabok 0°8′13.0596″S 116°24′23.5296″E / 0.136961000°S 116.406536000°E / -0.136961000; 116.406536000 2 1.45 0.5 0.725 933.5
Loa Kang 0°13′37.1532″S 116°33′59.598″E / 0.226987000°S 116.56655500°E / -0.226987000; 116.56655500 2 0.7 1.3 0.91 2.1
0°18′6.0048″S 116°36′1.0944″E / 0.301668000°S 116.600304000°E / -0.301668000; 116.600304000 2 0.6 2 1.22 6
Biru 0°18′15.0444″S 116°34′26.31″E / 0.304179000°S 116.5739750°E / -0.304179000; 116.5739750 1


Nypa in Mahakam Delta

The Mahakam delta is a mixed fluvial-tidal dominated delta. The delta covers about 1,800 square kilometers (690 sq mi), consisting of mangrove areas near the shore, Nypa swamps in the central areas, and lowland forest near the apex, corresponding to the first bifurcation.[6] Fishery development in this area has converted a vast area of mangrove into shrimp ponds (tambak). However, recent mangrove restoration efforts have taken place in the delta by replanting mangroves in abandoned shrimp ponds and encouraging silvofishery.[21] Many areas in the Mahakam delta are already naturally recolonized by mangrove vegetation contributing to ecosystem restoration.[22] Mangroves also function as sedimentation-enhancing strategies by capturing sediment-causing accretion.[23]

The delta has three main distributary systems directed Northeast, Southeast, and South. The area between distributaries consists of a series of tidal channels generally unconnected to the main distributaries.[24] The distributary channels are narrow and rectilinear with the depth ranging from 8 to 15 meters (26 to 49 ft) and distributary channel bifurcations appear every 10 to 15 kilometers (6.2 to 9.3 mi).[25]

This lower Mahakam area is the second most productive hydrocarbon basin of Indonesia which contains around 3 billion barrels of oil and 30 Tcf of gas reserves.[26] Field geological investigations in this area were started in 1888 and in 1897 exploration drilling discovered oil at a shallow depth of 46 meters (151 ft) on the Louise structure. Production started in 1898 followed by expansion of exploration to the entire Mahakam.[27]


The main tributaries from the mouth:[20]







Basin size


Average discharge


Mahakam 980 77,243.65 3,897.7
Loa Haor 120 463.4 11.6
Jembayan 180 1,365.6 34.7
Karang Mumus 40 318.3 7
Tenggarong 297.1 6.8
Separi 329.8 9
Kedang Rantau 132 3,631.8 77.8
Kedang Kepala 323.9 15,703.5 582.1
Belayan 319 9,977.3 556.6
Pela (Semayang) 10 2,206.2 65.9
Kedang Murung 435.1 10.3
Bongan 20 2,161.4 117
Kedang Pahu 144 6,800.3 300
Muyub 48 738.2 32.4
Kelian 270.7 14.4
Pariq 64 1,006.9 50.6
Ratah 3,302.9 191.7
Merah 51 275 13.8
Medang 839.3 43.5
Alan 32 410.6 22.6
Boh 71 6,624.4 365.1
Nyaan 72 495.8 29
Tepai 797.3 50.8
Melaseh 848.2 59.6
Cihar 375.4 27.3
Serata 247.9 19
Kosso 410.4 32.7
Sikê 289.3 23
Danum Parae 503.3 42.4
Sihi 265.7 22.4
Usok 448.5 35.5

*Period: 1971–2000


Nepenthes, called kantong semar by the locals, is an insect-eater plant found in the Mahakam peat area
Birds at the intermittent inlet of Lake Jempang from the Mahakam River

Mahakam and its floodplain is an ecologically important region. A total of 147 indigenous freshwater fish species had been identified from the Mahakam.[28] The Mahakam hosts the freshwater dolphin Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris; called Pesut by local people) a critically endangered species, which is included in CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Appendix I.[7] The Mahakam river basin is also important breeding and resting place for 298 bird species, among them 70 protected and five endemic species: Borneo dusky mannikin (Lonchura fuscans), Borneo whistler (Pachycephala hypoxantha), Bornean peacock-pheasant (Polyplectron schleiermacheri), Bornean blue-flycatcher (Cyornis superbus) and Bornean bristlehead (Pityriasis gymnocephala).[8]

A research cluster ([9]): "Upsetting the balance in the Mahakam Delta: past, present and future impacts of sea level rise, climate change, upstream controls and human intervention on sediment and mangrove dynamics" extensively researches the Mahakam. The cluster's objective is to study the impact of external forcing factors such as sea-level rise, climate change, upstream sediment, as well as human interference on past, present, and future development of the Mahakam delta in different time scales.


Logging and mining activities have contributed to the "alarming rate" of pollution of East Kalimantan's Mahakam River. Tests of water pollutants showed levels increased sharply between 2009 and 2011. Despite the growing pollution, it is claimed that "the water is still safe for consumption."[29]

Unsafe concentrations of heavy metals have been observed in Mahakam fish. A 2015 study found lead concentrations over 1000 times safe levels along with unsafe levels of copper, zinc, and cadmium.[30]


Bridges include the 400-meter (1,300 ft) Mahakam Bridge and the 710-meter (2,330 ft) Kutai Kartanegara Bridge. The latter collapsed on 26 November 2011, it took 3 years of planning and one and half years more to rebuild a new bridge on the same spot. The new Kutai Kertanegara Bridge has been open for public use since 8 December 2015, after an opening ceremony held by a local regent.

Social aspect[edit]

Ponton transporting coal through the Mahakam

The River Mahakam is an economic resource for fishermen and farmers and a freshwater source, as a waterway since ancient times until today. It is in this river basin where the Kutai kingdom evolved. The Kutai history is divided into two periods, Kutai Martadipura (around 350–400 AD) and Kutai Kartanegara period (around 1300). Kutai Martadipura, a Hindu kingdom founded by Mulawarman at Muara Kaman, is regarded as the oldest kingdom in Indonesia.[31] Kutai Kartanegara was founded by settlers from Java at Kutai Lama near the mouth of Mahakam. In around 1565, Islam was extensively spread in Kartanegara by two Moslem preachers from Java, Tunggang Parangan and Ri Bandang.[32]

The Dayaks are the indigenous people inhabiting Kalimantan beside the Kutais and the Banjars. Since the 1970s transmigration of people to East Kalimantan was organized by the Indonesian government, especially in areas near River Mahakam. Transmigration aims to migrate people from overpopulated Java, Bali, and Madura islands to stimulate greater agricultural productivity in the outer islands. By 1973, almost 26% of the land under cultivation in East Kalimantan was being worked by migrants.[33]

See also[edit]

The Mahakam bridge in Samarinda


  1. ^ Delphine, Dobler; Elodie, Martinez; Rinny, Rahmania; Budhi Gunadharma, Gautama; A. Riza, Farhan (2021). Floating marine debris along Indonesian coasts - An atlas of strandings based on Lagrangian modelling (PDF).
  2. ^ Ting-Hsuan, Huang; Chen-Tung, Arthur Chen; Hsiao-Chun, Tseng; Jiann-Yuh, Lou; Shu Lun, Wang; Liyang, Yang; Selvaraj, Kandasamy; Xuelu, Gao; Jough-Tai, Wang; Edvin, Aldrian; G.S., Jacinto; Gusti Z., Anshari; Penjai, Sompongchaiyakul; B.J., Wang (May 2017). "Riverine carbon fluxes to the South China Sea: Riverine carbon fluxes to the SCS". Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences. 122 (5): 1239–1259. doi:10.1002/2016JG003701. S2CID 135024272.
  3. ^ Etko, Kuusisto (26 August 2004). "WORLD WATER RESOURCES AND PROBLEMS" (PDF).
  5. ^ Hidayat et al., 2011. Discharge estimation in a backwater affected meandering river, HESS, 15, 2717–2728, 2011.
  6. ^ Hukum Online. "Keputusan Menteri Kehutanan No. SK.511/MENHUT-V/2011" (in Indonesian).
  7. ^ van Bemmelen,R.W., 1949. The Geology of Indonesia.
  8. ^ van Bemmelen,R.W., 1949. The Geology of Indonesia.
  9. ^ van Bemmelen,R.W., 1949. The Geology of Indonesia.
  10. ^ Voss, F.: Kalimantan Timur, Atlas. HWWA Institute, Hamburg, 1983.
  11. ^ IWT Kalimantan, Contribution Delft Hydraulics, Appendix I Mahakam River
  12. ^ "Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (EGU)" (PDF). 2021.
  13. ^ Peel, M.C., B. L. Finlayson, and T. A. McMahon, 2007. Updated world map of the Koppen-Geiger climate classification. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 11, 1633–1644.
  14. ^ Seidel, D.J., Qiang Fu, William J. Randel & Thomas J. Reichler, 2008. Widening of the tropical belt in a changing climateNature Geoscience 1, 21 – 24, Published online: 2 December 2007, doi:10.1038/ngeo.2007.38
  15. ^ Hidayat, 2013. Runoff, discharge and flood occurrence in a poorly gauged basin – The Mahakam River, PhD thesis, Wageningen University
  16. ^ "Statistik Indonesia".
  18. ^ East Kalimantan provincial government, 2002. Master Plan Sungai Mahakam. Dinas Pekerjaan Umum dan Pemukiman Prasarana Wilayah (in Indonesian)
  19. ^ a b "Kalimantan-Borneo".
  20. ^ Powell, N.; Osbeck, M. (2010). "Approaches for understanding and embedding stakeholder realities in mangrove rehabilitation processes in Southeast Asia: lessons learnt from Mahakam Delta, East Kalimantan". Sustainable Development. 18 (5): 260–270. doi:10.1002/sd.477.
  21. ^ Bunting, S. W.; Bosma, R. H.; van Zwieten, P. A.; Sidik, A. S. (2013). "Bioeconomic modelling of shrimp aquaculture strategies for the Mahakam Delta, Indonesia". Aquaculture Economics & Management. 17 (1): 51–70. doi:10.1080/13657305.2013.747226. ISSN 1365-7305. S2CID 154956644.
  22. ^ Bourgeois, Robin; Gouyon, Anne; Jésus, Franck; Levang, Patrice; Langeraar, Wine (2002). "A socio economic and institutional analysis of mahakam delta stakeholders : Final report". agritrop.cirad.fr. Retrieved 12 March 2021.
  23. ^ Wiweko A., 2002. The modern Mahakam delta in Modern, ancient deltaic deposits and petroleum system of Mahakam area, Totalfinaelf E&P Indonesie.
  24. ^ Allen, G.P., Chambers J.L.C., 1998. Sedimentation in the modern and Miocene Mahakam Delta. Indonesian Petroleum Association
  25. ^ Mora S., Ten Haven L., 2002. Petroleum system of lower Kutai basin in Modern, ancient deltaic deposits and petroleum system of Mahakam area, Totalfinaelf E&P Indonesie.
  26. ^ Homewood P, Roy D., 2002. A historical perspective on the exploration of the Mahakam in Modern, ancient deltaic deposits and petroleum system of Mahakam area, Totalfinaelf E&P Indonesie.
  27. ^ Christensen, M.S., 1992. Investigations on the Ecology and Fish Fauna of the Mahakam River in East Kalimantan (Borneo), Indonesia. Int. Revue ges. Hydrobiol., 77(4).
  28. ^ Mattangkilang, Tunggadewa. "Pollution of Mahakam River Has Reached 'Severe' Levels: Environment Agency". Jakarta Globe. Retrieved 8 October 2015.
  29. ^ Adri, N (13 April 2015). "Fish in Mahakam River delta contaminated by heavy metals". Jakarta Post. Retrieved 8 October 2015.
  30. ^ "Kutai Kingdom | Melayu Online". Archived from the original on 18 July 2011. Retrieved 24 December 2009.
  31. ^ Allan J. & Muller K., 1988. The Times Travel Library: East Kalimantan, Ed. By P. Zach, Times Editions.
  32. ^ Babcock, 1986 as cited by Stadtmueller T., 1990. Soil erosion in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. Proceedings of the Fiji Symposium Research Needs and Applications to Reduce Erosion and Sedimentation in Tropical Steeplands, June 1990: IAHS-AISH Publ. No.192,1990.

0°35′S 117°17′E / 0.583°S 117.283°E / -0.583; 117.283