The Colorado River in Marble and Grand Canyons displays evidence of annual supply limitation with respect to sand both prior to [Topping et al., this issue] and after the closure of Glen Canyon Dam in 1963. Systematic changes in bed elevation and systematic coupled changes in suspended-sand concentration and grain size result from this supply limitation. During floods, sand supply limitation either causes or modifies a lag between the time of maximum discharge and the time of either maximum or minimum (depending on reach geometry) bed elevation. If, at a cross section where the bed aggrades with increasing flow, the maximum bed elevation is observed to lead the peak or the receding limb of a flood, then this observed response of the bed is due to sand supply limitation. Sand supply limitation also leads to the systematic evolution of sand grain size (both on the bed and in suspension) in the Colorado River. Sand input during a tributary flood travels down the Colorado River as an elongating sediment wave, with the finest sizes (because of their lower settling velocities) traveling the fastest. As the fine front of a sediment wave arrives at a given location, the bed fines and suspended-sand concentrations increase in response to the enhanced upstream supply of finer sand. Then, as the front of the sediment wave passes that location, the bed is winnowed and suspended-sand concentrations decrease in response to the depletion of the upstream supply of finer sand. The grain-size effects of depletion of the upstream sand supply are most obvious during periods of higher dam releases (e.g, the 1996 flood experiment and the 1997 test flow). Because of substantial changes in the grain-size distribution of the bed, stable relationships between the discharge of water and sand-transport rates (i.e., stable sand rating curves) are precluded. Sand budgets in a supply-limited river like the Colorado River can only be constructed through inclusion of the physical processes that couple changes in bed-sediment grain size to changes in sand-transport rates.
Additional publication details
Colorado River sediment transport 2. Systematic bed-elevation and grain-size effects of sand supply limitation