Channel adjustments in the North Fork Toutle River and the Toutle River main stem were initiated by deposition of a 2.5km3 debris avalanche and associated lahars that accompanied the catastrophic eruption of Mount St. Helens, Washington on 18 May 1980. Channel widening was the dominant process. In combination, adjustments caused average boundary shear stress to decrease non-linearly with time and critical shear stress to increase non-linearly with time. At the discharge that is equalled or exceeded 1 per cent of the time, these trends converged by 1991-1992 so that excess shear stress approached minimum values. Extremal hypotheses, such as minimization of unit stream power and minimization of the rate of energy dissipation (minimum stream power), are shown to be applicable to dynamic adjustments of the Toutle River system. Maximization of the Darcy-Weisbach friction factor did not occur, but increases in relative bed roughness, caused by the concomitant reduction in hydraulic depths and bed-material coarsening, were documented. Predictions of stable channel geometries using the minimum stream power approach were unsuccessful when compared to the 1991-1992 geometries and bed-material characteristics measured in the field. It is concluded that the predictions are not applicable because the study reaches are not truly stable and cannot become so until a new floodplain has been formed by renewed channel incision, retreat of stream-side hummocks, and establishment of riparian vegetation to limit the destabilizing effects of large floods. Further, prediction of energy slope (and consequently stream power) by the sediment transport equations is inaccurate because of the inability of the equations to account for significant contributions of finer grained (sand and gravel) bank materials (relative to the coarsened channel bed) from bank retreat and from upstream terrace erosion.
Additional publication details
Channel adjustment of an unstable coarse-grained stream: Opposing trends of boundary and critical shear stress, and the applicability of extremal hypotheses