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  1. Abstract

    Estimates of nitrate loading to the Arctic Ocean are limited by the lack of field observations within deltas partly due to logistical constraints. To overcome this limitation, we use a remote sensing framework to estimate retention of nitrate in Arctic deltas. We achieve this by coupling hydrological and biogeochemical process models at the network scale for five major Arctic deltas. Binary masks of delta channels were used to simulate flow direction and magnitude through networks. Models were parameterized using historical and seasonal observations. Simulated nitrate retention ranged from 2.9% to 15% of the incoming load. Retention rates were largest during winter but smallest during spring conditions when increased discharges export large nitrate masses to the coast. Under future climate scenarios, retention rates fall by ∼1%–10%. Arctic deltas have an important effect on the magnitude of nitrate entering Arctic seas and the inclusion of processing in deltas can improve flux estimates.

  2. Abstract River channels are among the most common landscape features on Earth. An essential characteristic of channels is sinuosity: their tendency to take a circuitous path, which is quantified as along-stream length divided by straight-line length. River sinuosity is interpreted as a characteristic that either forms randomly at channel inception or develops over time as meander bends migrate. Studies tend to assume the latter and thus have used river sinuosity as a proxy for both modern and ancient environmental factors including climate, tectonics, vegetation, and geologic structure. But no quantitative criterion for planform expression has distinguished between random, initial sinuosity and that developed by ordered growth through channel migration. This ambiguity calls into question the utility of river sinuosity for understanding Earth's history. We propose a quantitative framework to reconcile these competing explanations for river sinuosity. Using a coupled analysis of modeled and natural channels, we show that while a majority of observed sinuosity is consistent with randomness and limited channel migration, rivers with sinuosity ≥1.5 likely formed their geometry through sustained, ordered growth due to channel migration. This criterion frames a null hypothesis for river sinuosity that can be applied to evaluate the significance of environmental interpretations in landscapesmore »shaped by rivers. The quantitative link between sinuosity and channel migration further informs strategies for preservation and restoration of riparian habitat and guides predictions of fluvial deposits in the rock record and in remotely sensed environments from the seafloor to planetary surfaces.« less
  3. Abstract

    The dense populations that inhabit global coastlines have an uncertain future due to increased flooding, storms, and human modification. The channel networks of deltas and marshes that plumb these coastlines present diverse architectures, including well‐studied dendritic topologies. However, the quasi‐stable loops that exist in nearly all coastal networks have not yet been explained. We present a model for self‐organizing networks inspired by vascular biophysics to show that loops emerge when the relative forcings between rivers and tides are comparable, resulting in interplay between hydrodynamic forcings at short time scales relative to network evolution. Using field data and satellite imaging, we confirm this control on 21 field networks. Our comparison provides compelling evidence that hydrodynamic fluctuations are capable of stabilizing loops in geophysical systems.

  4. Abstract

    River deltas are home to large populations and can be composed of complex channel networks which convey flows of matter to the shoreline. Knowledge of flow within individual channels is needed to quantify the distribution of discharge across the delta, and thus its sustainability over time. Due to a lack of field measurements at the local channel scale, researchers leverage remote sensing data to estimate the partitioning of flow. We compare data from 15 river deltas to discharge partitioning estimates based on channel network graphs derived from remote sensing imagery. We quantify errors in the common width‐based method and test alternative partitioning techniques to find that width‐based discharge partitioning is universally applicable, suggesting that absent any site‐specific information, discharge partitioning by average channel width is an appropriate approach. We also provide networks, streamflow measurements, and flux partitioning estimates for 28 delta networks as the Discharge In Distributary NeTworks (DIDNT) dataset.

  5. Abstract. The abundance of global, remotely sensed surface water observations has accelerated efforts toward characterizing and modeling how water moves across the Earth's surface through complex channel networks. In particular, deltas and braided river channel networks may contain thousands of links that route water, sediment, and nutrients across landscapes. In order to model flows through channel networks and characterize network structure, the direction of flow for each link within the network must be known. In this work, we propose a rapid, automatic, and objective method to identify flow directions for all links of a channel network using only remotely sensed imagery and knowledge of the network's inlet and outletlocations. We designed a suite of direction-predicting algorithms (DPAs),each of which exploits a particular morphologic characteristic of thechannel network to provide a prediction of a link's flow direction. DPAswere chained together to create “recipes”, or algorithms that set all theflow directions of a channel network. Separate recipes were built for deltasand braided rivers and applied to seven delta and two braided river channelnetworks. Across all nine channel networks, the recipe-predicted flowdirections agreed with expert judgement for 97 % of all tested links, andmost disagreements were attributed to unusual channel network topologiesthat can easily bemore »accounted for by pre-seeding critical links with knownflow directions. Our results highlight the (non)universality ofprocess–form relationships across deltas and braided rivers.« less
  6. Abstract

    Human activities have increased nitrate export from rivers, degrading coastal water quality. At deltaic river mouths, the flow of water through wetlands increases nitrate removal, and the spatial organization of removal rates influences coastal water quality. To understand the spatial distribution of nitrate removal in a river‐dominated delta, we deployed 23 benthic chambers across ecogeomorphic zones with varying elevation, vegetation, and sediment properties in Wax Lake Delta (Louisiana, USA) in June 2018. Regression analyses indicate that normalized difference vegetation index is a useful predictor of summertime nitrate removal. Mass transfer velocity were approximately three times greater on a vegetated submerged levee (13 mm hr−1), where normalized difference vegetation index was greatest, compared to other locations (4.6 mm hr−1). Two methods were developed to upscale nitrate removal across the delta. The flooded‐delta method integrates spatially explicit potential removal rates across submerged portions of the delta and suggests that intermediate elevations on the delta—including submerged levees—are responsible for 70% of potential nitrate removal despite covering only 33% of the flooded area. The channel network method treats the delta as a network of river channels and suggests that although secondary channels are more efficient than primary channels at removing received nitrate, primary channels collectively contribute moremore »to overall removal because they convey more of the total nitrate load. The two upscaling methods predict similar rates of nitrate removal, equivalent to less than 4% of nitrate entering the delta. To protect coastal waters against high nitrate loads, management policies should aim to reduce upstream nutrient loads.

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