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  1. Abstract

    How will bank erosion rates in Arctic rivers respond to a warming climate? Existing physical models predict that bank erosion rates should increase with water temperature as permafrost thaws more rapidly. However, the same theory predicts much faster erosion than is typically observed. We propose that these models are missing a key component: a layer of thawed sediment on the bank that buffers heat transfer and slows erosion. We developed a 1D model for this thawed layer, which reveals three regimes for permafrost riverbank erosion. Thaw‐limited erosion occurs in the absence of a thawed layer, such that rapid pore‐ice melting sets the pace of erosion, consistent with existing models. Entrainment‐limited erosion occurs when pore‐ice melting outpaces bank erosion, resulting in a thawed layer, and the relatively slow entrainment of sediment sets the pace of erosion similar to non‐permafrost rivers. Third, the intermediate regime occurs when the thawed layer goes through cycles of thickening and failure, leading to a transient thermal buffer that slows thaw rates. Distinguishing between these regimes is important because thaw‐limited erosion is highly sensitive to water temperature, whereas entrainment‐limited erosion is not. Interestingly, the buffered regime produces a thawed layer and relatively slow erosion rates like the entrainment‐limited regime, but erosion rates are temperature sensitive like the thaw‐limited regime. The results suggest the potential for accelerating erosion in a warming Arctic where bank erosion is presently thaw‐limited or buffered. Moreover, rivers can experience all regimes annually and transition between regimes with warming, altering their sensitivity to climate change.

     
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  2. Abstract

    Permafrost thaw is hypothesized to increase riverbank erosion rates, which threatens Arctic communities and infrastructure. However, existing erosion models have not been tested against controlled flume experiments with open‐channel flow past an erodible, hydraulically rough permafrost bank. We conducted temperature‐controlled flume experiments where turbulent water eroded laterally into riverbanks consisting of sand and pore ice. The experiments were designed to produce ablation‐limited erosion such that any thawed sediment was quickly transported away from the bank. Bank erosion rates increased linearly with water temperature, decreased with pore ice content, and were insensitive to changes in bank temperature, consistent with theory. However, erosion rates were approximately a factor of three greater than expected. The heightened erosion rates were due to a greater coefficient of heat transfer from the turbulent water to the permafrost bank caused by bank grain roughness. A revised ablation‐limited bank erosion model with a heat transfer coefficient that includes bank roughness matched our experimental results well. Results indicate that bank erosion along Arctic rivers can accelerate under scenarios of warming river water temperatures for cases where the cadence of bank erosion is set by pore‐ice melting rather than sediment entrainment.

     
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  3. Global satellite observations reveal topographic and climatic controls on river avulsions. 
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  4. Abstract

    River dams provide many benefits, including flood control. However, due to constantly evolving channel morphology, downstream conveyance of floodwaters following dam closure is difficult to predict. Here, we test the hypothesis that the incised, enlarged channel downstream of dams provides enhanced water conveyance, using a case study from the lower Yellow River, China. We find that, although flood stage is lowered for small floods, counterintuitively, flood stage downstream of a dam can be amplified for moderate and large floods. This arises because bed incision is accompanied by sediment coarsening, which facilitates development of large dunes that increase flow resistance and reduce velocity relative to pre-dam conditions. Our findings indicate the underlying mechanism for such flood amplification may occur in >80% of fine-grained rivers, and suggest the need to reconsider flood control strategies in such rivers worldwide.

     
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  5. Fly ash—the residuum of coal burning—contains a considerable amount of fossilized particulate organic carbon (FOC ash ) that remains after high-temperature combustion. Fly ash leaks into natural environments and participates in the contemporary carbon cycle, but its reactivity and flux remained poorly understood. We characterized FOC ash in the Chang Jiang (Yangtze River) basin, China, and quantified the riverine FOC ash fluxes. Using Raman spectral analysis, ramped pyrolysis oxidation, and chemical oxidation, we found that FOC ash is highly recalcitrant and unreactive, whereas shale-derived FOC (FOC rock ) was much more labile and easily oxidized. By combining mass balance calculations and other estimates of fly ash input to rivers, we estimated that the flux of FOC ash carried by the Chang Jiang was 0.21 to 0.42 Mt C⋅y −1 in 2007 to 2008—an amount equivalent to 37 to 72% of the total riverine FOC export. We attributed such high flux to the combination of increasing coal combustion that enhances FOC ash production and the massive construction of dams in the basin that reduces the flux of FOC rock eroded from upstream mountainous areas. Using global ash data, a first-order estimate suggests that FOC ash makes up to 16% of the present-day global riverine FOC flux to the oceans. This reflects a substantial impact of anthropogenic activities on the fluxes and burial of fossil organic carbon that has been made less reactive than the rocks from which it was derived. 
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  6. Sea-level rise, subsidence, and reduced fluvial sediment supply are causing river deltas to drown worldwide, affecting ecosystems and billions of people. Abrupt changes in river course, called avulsions, naturally nourish sinking land with sediment; however, they also create catastrophic flood hazards. Existing observations and models conflict on whether the occurrence of avulsions will change due to relative sea-level rise, hampering the ability to forecast delta response to global climate change. Here, we combined theory, numerical modeling, and field observations to develop a mechanistic framework to predict avulsion frequency on deltas with multiple self-formed lobes that scale with backwater hydrodynamics. Results show that avulsion frequency is controlled by the competition between relative sea-level rise and sediment supply that drives lobe progradation. We find that most large deltas are experiencing sufficiently low progradation rates such that relative sea-level rise enhances aggradation rates—accelerating avulsion frequency and associated hazards compared to preindustrial conditions. Some deltas may face even greater risk; if relative sea-level rise significantly outpaces sediment supply, then avulsion frequency is maximized, delta plains drown, and avulsion locations shift inland, posing new hazards to upstream communities. Results indicate that managed deltas can support more frequent engineered avulsions to recover sinking land; however, there is a threshold beyond which coastal land will be lost, and mitigation efforts should shift upstream.

     
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  7. Abstract

    Understanding the way fluvially transported materials are partitioned in river deltas is essential for predicting their morphological change and the fate of environmental constituents and contaminants. Translating water‐based partitioning estimates into fluxes of nonwater materials is often difficult to constrain because most materials are not uniformly distributed in the water column and may have characteristic transport pathways that differ from the mean flow. Here, we present a novel reduced‐complexity modeling approach for simulating the patterns of transport of a diverse range of suspended fluvial inputs influenced by vertical stratification and topographic steering. We utilize a mixed Eulerian‐Lagrangian modeling approach to estimate the patterns of nourishment and connectivity in the Wax Lake and Atchafalaya Deltas in coastal Louisiana. Using the reduced‐complexity particle routing modeldorado, in conjunction with a calibratedANUGAhydrodynamic model, we quantify how transport patterns in each system change as a function of a material's Rouse number and environmental conditions. We find that even small changes to local topographic steering lead to emergent system‐scale changes in patterns of fluvial nourishment, with greater channel‐island connectivity for positively buoyant materials than negatively buoyant materials, hydraulically sorting different materials in space. We also find that the nourishment patterns of some materials are more sensitive than others to changes in discharge, tidal conditions, and anthropogenic dredging. Our results have important implications for understanding the eco‐geomorphic evolution of deltas, and our modeling framework could have interdisciplinary implications for studying the transport of materials in other systems, including sediments, nutrients, wood, plastics, and biotic materials.

     
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  8. Abstract Landscapes following wildfire commonly have significant increases in sediment yield and debris flows that pose major hazards and are difficult to predict. Ultimately, post-wildfire sediment yield is governed by processes that deliver sediment from hillslopes to channels, but it is commonly unclear the degree to which hillslope sediment delivery is driven by wet versus dry processes, which limits the ability to predict debris-flow occurrence and response to climate change. Here we use repeat airborne lidar topography to track sediment movement following the 2009 CE Station Fire in southern California, USA, and show that post-wildfire debris flows initiated in channels filled by dry sediment transport, rather than on hillsides during rainfall as typically assumed. We found widespread patterns of 1–3 m of dry sediment loading in headwater channels immediately following wildfire and before rainfall, followed by sediment excavation during subsequent storms. In catchments where post-wildfire dry sediment loading was absent, possibly due to differences in lithology, channel scour during storms did not occur. Our results support a fire-flood model in bedrock landscapes whereby debris-flow occurrence depends on dry sediment loading rather than hillslope-runoff erosion, shallow landslides, or burn severity, indicating that sediment supply can limit debris-flow occurrence in bedrock landscapes with more-frequent fires. 
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