Sand transport in the Colorado River in Marble and Grand canyons was naturally limited by the upstream supply of sand. Prior to the 1963 closure of Glen Canyon Dam, the river exhibited the following four effects of sand supply limitation: (1) hysteresis in sediment concentration, (2) hysteresis in sediment grain size coupled to the hysteresis in sediment concentration, (3) production of inversely graded flood deposits, and (4) development or modification of a lag between the time of a flood peak and the time of either maximum or minimum (depending on reach geometry) bed elevation. Construction and operation of the dam has enhanced the degree to which the first two of these four effects are evident, and has not affected the degree to which the last two effects of sand supply limitation are evident in the Colorado River in Marble and Grand canyons. The first three of the effects involve coupled changes in suspended-sand concentration and grain size that are controlled by changes in the upstream supply of sand. During tributary floods, sand on the bed of the Colorado River fines; this causes the suspended sand to fine and the suspended-sand concentration to increase, even when the discharge of water remains constant. Subsequently, the bed is winnowed of finer sand, the suspended sand coarsens, and the suspended-sand concentration decreases independently of discharge. Also associated with these changes in sand supply are changes in the fraction of the bed that is covered by sand. Thus, suspended-sand concentration in the Colorado River is likely regulated by both changes in the bed-sand grain size and changes in the bed-sand area. A physically based flow and suspended-sediment transport model is developed, tested, and applied to data from the Colorado River to evaluate the relative importance of changes in the bed-sand grain size and changes in the bed-sand area in regulating suspended-sand concentration. Although the model was developed using approximations for steady, uniform flow, and other simplifications that are not met in the Colorado River, the results nevertheless support the idea that changes in bed-sand grain size are much more important than changes in bed-sand area in regulating the concentration of suspended sand.
Additional publication details
Coupled changes in sand grain size and sand transport driven by changes in the upstream supply of sand in the Colorado River: relative importance of changes in bed-sand grain size and bed-sand area