An approach for modeling sediment budgets in supply-limited rivers

Water Resources Research

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Reliable predictions of sediment transport and river morphology in response to variations in natural and human-induced drivers are necessary for river engineering and management. Because engineering and management applications may span a wide range of space and time scales, a broad spectrum of modeling approaches has been developed, ranging from suspended-sediment "rating curves" to complex three-dimensional morphodynamic models. Suspended sediment rating curves are an attractive approach for evaluating changes in multi-year sediment budgets resulting from changes in flow regimes because they are simple to implement, computationally efficient, and the empirical parameters can be estimated from quantities that are commonly measured in the field (i.e., suspended sediment concentration and water discharge). However, the standard rating curve approach assumes a unique suspended sediment concentration for a given water discharge. This assumption is not valid in rivers where sediment supply varies enough to cause changes in particle size or changes in areal coverage of sediment on the bed; both of these changes cause variations in suspended sediment concentration for a given water discharge. More complex numerical models of hydraulics and morphodynamics have been developed to address such physical changes of the bed. This additional complexity comes at a cost in terms of computations as well as the type and amount of data required for model setup, calibration, and testing. Moreover, application of the resulting sediment-transport models may require observations of bed-sediment boundary conditions that require extensive (and expensive) observations or, alternatively, require the use of an additional model (subject to its own errors) merely to predict the bed-sediment boundary conditions for use by the transport model. In this paper we present a hybrid approach that combines aspects of the rating curve method and the more complex morphodynamic models. Our primary objective was to develop an approach complex enough to capture the processes related to sediment supply limitation but simple enough to allow for rapid calculations of multi-year sediment budgets. The approach relies on empirical relations between suspended sediment concentration and discharge but on a particle size specific basis and also tracks and incorporates the particle size distribution of the bed sediment. We have applied this approach to the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam (GCD), a reach that is particularly suited to such an approach because it is substantially sediment supply limited such that transport rates are strongly dependent on both water discharge and sediment supply. The results confirm the ability of the approach to simulate the effects of supply limitation, including periods of accumulation and bed fining as well as erosion and bed coarsening, using a very simple formulation. Although more empirical in nature than standard one-dimensional morphodynamic models, this alternative approach is attractive because its simplicity allows for rapid evaluation of multi-year sediment budgets under a range of flow regimes and sediment supply conditions, and also because it requires substantially less data for model setup and use.

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Journal Article
An approach for modeling sediment budgets in supply-limited rivers
Series title:
Water Resources Research
Year Published:
American Geophysical Union
Publisher location:
Washington, D.C.
Contributing office(s):
Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center, California Water Science Center, Pacific Science Center
18 p.
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Larger Work Subtype:
Journal Article
Larger Work Title:
Water Resources Research