skip to main content

Title: The influence of lithology on channel geometry and bed sediment organization in mountainous hillslope‐coupled streams

Sediment transport and channel morphology in mountainous hillslope‐coupled streams reflect a mixture of hillslope and channel processes. However, the influence of lithology on channel form and adjustment and sediment transport remains poorly understood. Patterns of channel form, grain size, and transport capacity were investigated in two gravel‐bed streams with contrasting lithology (basalt and sandstone) in the Oregon Coast Range, USA, in a region in which widespread landslides and debris flows occurred in 1996. This information was used to evaluate threshold channel conditions and channel bed adjustment since 1996. Channel geometry, slope, and valley width were measured or extracted from LiDAR and sediment textures were measured in the surface and subsurface. Similar coarsening patterns in the first few kilometres of both streams indicated strong hillslope influences, but subsequent downstream fining was lithology‐dependent. Despite these differences, surface grain size was strongly related to shear stress, such that the ratio of available to critical shear stress for motion of the median surface grain size at bankfull stage was around one over most of the surveyed lengths. This indicated hydraulic sorting of supplied sediment, independent of lithology. We infer a cycle of adjustment to sediment delivered during the 1996 flooding, from threshold conditions, to non‐alluvial characteristics, to threshold conditions in both basins. The sandstone basin can also experience complete depletion of the gravel‐size alluvium to sand size, leading to bedrock exposure because of high diminution rates. Although debris flows being more frequent in a basalt basin, this system will likely display threshold‐like characteristics over a longer period, indicating that the lithologic control on channel adjustment is driven by differences in rock competence that control grain size and available gravel for bed load transport. © 2020 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

more » « less
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Earth Surface Processes and Landforms
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 2365-2379
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Bed material abrasion is a major control on the partitioning of basin‐scale sediment fluxes between coarse and fine material. While abrasion is traditionally treated as an exponential function of transport distance and a lithology‐specific abrasion coefficient, experimental studies have demonstrated greater complexity in the abrasion process: the rate of abrasion varies with clast angularity, transport rate, and grain size. Yet, few studies have attempted to assess the importance of these complexities in a field setting. Here, we develop a new method for rapidly quantifying baseline abrasion rate in the field via Schmidt Hammer Rock Strength. We use this method, along with measurements of gravel bar lithology, to quantify abrasion in the Suiattle River, a basin in the North Cascades of Washington State in which sediment supply to the channel is dominated by recurrent debris flows from a tributary draining Glacier Peak stratovolcano. Rapid downstream strengthening of river bar sediment and a preferential loss of weak, low‐density vesicular volcanic clasts relative to non‐vesicular ones suggest that abrasion is extremely effective in this system. The standard exponential model for downstream abrasion, using single‐lithology abrasion rates fails to reproduce observed downstream patterns in lithology and clast strength. Incorporating heterogeneity in source material strength as well as transport rate‐dependent abrasion largely resolves this failure. Further work is needed to develop a comprehensive quantitative framework for the dependence of bed material abrasion on grain size and transport rate.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Physical disturbances in streams have important effects on rates of gross primary production (GPP) and ecosystem respiration (ER). Underlying lithology can control sediment size, amount, and evolution in the stream, influencing substrate stability and in turn benthic organisms. We assessed patterns of disturbance and recovery for metabolic processes of GPP and ER associated with periods of increased flow and suspended sediment flux between December and April in two streams in the Oregon Coast Range with differing lithologies (basalt and sandstone). The results of whole‐stream metabolism modelling indicate that the two study streams have varying patterns of response and recovery rates after storm events. Both streams were heterotrophic during the entirety of the study period with changes in heterotrophy driven by changes in ER. Poststorm GPP decreased in both streams, but the basalt basin had greater proportional decreases and recovered slower than the sandstone basin. This result was unexpected and appeared to be associated with lower light availability in the basalt basin driven by increased turbidity during storm events; the coarser basalt substrate weathers into smaller size fractions than the finer sandstone substrate, remaining in suspension over longer periods and limiting light availability to benthic primary producers. The rates of ER in the sandstone basin did not change from prestorm to poststorm, whereas rates of ER in the basalt basin had varying responses. Overall, our results indicated that the underlying lithology of small mountain streams can drive variability in GPP by controlling sediment size and light availability during storms events.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Turbidity current and coastal storm deposits are commonly characterized by a basal sandy massive (structureless) unit overlying an erosional surface and underlying a parallel or cross‐laminated unit. Similar sequences have been recently identified in fluvial settings as well. Notwithstanding field, laboratory and numerical studies, the mechanisms for emplacement of these massive basal units are still under debate. It is well accepted that the sequence considered here can be deposited by waning‐energy flows, and that the parallel‐laminated units are deposited under transport conditions corresponding to upper plane bed at the dune–antidune transition. Thus, transport conditions that are more intense than those at the dune–antidune transition should deposit massive units. This study presents experimental, open‐channel flow results showing that sandy massive units can be the result of gradual deposition from a thick bedload layer of colliding grains called sheet flow layer. When this layer forms with relatively coarse sand, the non‐dimensional bed shear stress associated with skin friction, the Shields number, is larger than a threshold value approximately equal to 0·4. For values of the Shields number smaller than 0·4 the sheet flow layer disappeared, sediment was transported by a standard bedload layer one or two grain diameters thick, and the bed configuration was characterized by downstream migrating antidunes and washed out dunes. Parallel laminae were found in deposits emplaced with standard bedload transport demonstrating that the same dilute flow can gradually deposit the basal and the parallel‐laminated unit in presence of traction at the depositional boundary. Further, the experiments suggested that two different types of upper plane bed conditions can be defined, one associated with standard bedload transport at the dune–antidune transition, and the other associated with bedload transport in sheet flow mode at the transition between upstream and downstream migrating antidunes.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Floodplains provide important ecological, hydrological, and geomorphic functions within river corridors. During overbank flows, complex hydrodynamic conditions occur as water exits and re‐enters the channel and interacts with hydraulically rough floodplain vegetation. However, the extent to which floodplain vegetation influences channel‐altering hydrodynamic forces and thus bedform topography and sediment transport is poorly understood. We address this knowledge gap and present the results of flume experiments where we measured bedform topography under varied floodplain vegetation conditions at two overbank flow relative depths. The experiments were conducted in a 1‐m wide meandering compound channel inset in a 15.4 long, 4.9‐m wide basin. The channel bed was a mobile sand‐and‐gravel mixture with a median sediment size of 3.3 mm, and sediment transport occurred only within the channel. We tested bare and vegetated floodplain conditions with 2.7‐cm diameter rigid emergent vegetation elements at spacings of 3.0 and 12.1 units m−2. We performed a moving‐window analysis of topographic surface metrics including skewness, coefficient of variation, and standard deviation, as well as topographic patch analysis of area and contagion to measure changes in bedform heterogeneity as flow depth and vegetation density were varied. Our results show that both greater density vegetation and larger flows can increase bedform topographic heterogeneity. These findings suggest that floodplain vegetation and natural hydrologic regimes that include overbank flows can enhance stream habitat complexity. Designing for the effects of established vegetation conditions and prioritizing floodplain vegetation planting may be useful for river managers striving to achieve successful biomic river restoration.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Meandering river floodplains often contain intermittently flooded complex channel networks. Many questions remain as to the pervasiveness, function, and evolution of these floodplain channels. In this present work, we analyzed size‐specific sediment transport potential and assessed whether the channelized floodplain of the meandering East Fork White River near Seymour, Indiana is on a net erosional or depositional trajectory. We applied a two‐dimensional hydrodynamic model and used simulated model results to estimate the largest sediment size that can be moved in suspension and as bedload at various flows for grain size classes between 4 µm and 64 mm. We developed a probabilistic method that integrates the largest sediment size that can be moved at various flows to compute an effective grain size, which we compared to measured field data. Results show that the river is capable of supplying sand to the floodplain and these floodplain channels can transport sand in suspension and gravel as bedload. This suggests that sediment supplied from the river could be transported as bedload in floodplain channels. These floodplain channels are supply limited under the current hydrologic regime and the grain size distribution of the bed surface is set by the flow conditions; thus, these floodplain channels are net erosional. Finally, our proposed method of probabilistically integrating the largest sediment size that can be moved at various flows can be used to predict the upper end of the grain size distribution in suspension and in bed material, which is applicable to floodplains as well as coastal areas.

    more » « less