Hydroecological factors governing surface water flow on a low-gradient floodplain

Water Resources Research

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DOI: 10.1029/2008WR007129



"Interrelationships between hydrology and aquatic ecosystems are better understood in streams and rivers compared to their surrounding floodplains. Our goal was to characterize the hydrology of the Everglades ridge and slough floodplain ecosystem, which is valued for the comparatively high biodiversity and connectivity of its parallel-drainage features but which has been degraded over the past century in response to flow reductions associated with flood control. We measured flow velocity, water depth, and wind velocity continuously for 3 years in an area of the Everglades with well-preserved parallel-drainage features (i.e., 200-m wide sloughs interspersed with slightly higher elevation and more densely vegetated ridges). Mean daily flow velocity averaged 0.32 cm s1 and ranged between 0.02 and 0.79 cm s1. Highest sustained velocities were associated with flow pulses caused by water releases from upstream hydraulic control structures that increased flow velocity by a factor of 2–3 on the floodplain for weeks at a time. The highest instantaneous measurements of flow velocity were associated with the passage of Hurricane Wilma in 2005 when the inverse barometric pressure effect increased flow velocity up to 5 cm s1 for several hours. Time-averaged flow velocities were 29% greater in sloughs compared to ridges because of marginally higher vegetative drag in ridges compared to sloughs, which contributed modestly (relative to greater water depth and flow duration in sloughs compared to ridges) to the predominant fraction (86%) of total discharge through the landscape occurring in sloughs. Univariate scaling relationships developed from theory of flow through vegetation, and our field data indicated that flow velocity increases with the square of water surface slope and the fourth power of stem diameter, decreases in direct proportion with increasing frontal area of vegetation, and is unrelated to water depth except for the influence that water depth has in controlling the submergence height of vegetation that varies vertically in its architectural characteristics. In the Everglades the result of interactions among controlling variables was that flow velocity was dominantly controlled by water surface slope variations responding to flow pulses more than spatial variation in vegetation characteristics or fluctuating water depth. Our findings indicate that floodplain managers could, in addition to managing water depth, manipulate the frequency and duration of inflow pulses to manage water surface slope, which would add further control over flow velocities, water residence times, sediment settling, biogeochemical transformations, and other processes that are important to floodplain function."

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Hydroecological factors governing surface water flow on a low-gradient floodplain
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Water Resources Research
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Branch of Regional Research-Eastern Region
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Journal Article
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Water Resources Research
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United States