Geomorphic change and biogeomorphic feedbacks in a dryland river: The Little Colorado River, Arizona, USA

GSA Bulletin
By:  and 



The Little Colorado River in Arizona, U.S.A. has undergone substantial geomorphic change since the early 1900s. We analyzed hydrologic and geomorphic data at different spatial and temporal scales to determine the type, magnitude, and rate of geomorphic change that has occurred since the early 20th century. Since the 1920s, there have been 4 alternating periods of high and low total-annual flow. Peak-flow magnitude, however, has progressively declined. In some reaches, the channel has narrowed between 72 and 88% since the 1930s. Increases in sinuosity in wide alluvial valleys have resulted in reductions in channel slope by ~21 to 32%; channel bed aggradation up to 1.4 m has also occurred in some reaches. Newly developed floodplains have been colonized by dense stands of vegetation that appear to have stabilized these surfaces. Large, long duration floods may cause some channel widening, and meander migration, however, these floods are infrequent, and narrowing resumes shortly thereafter. Channel narrowing, increases in sinuosity, decreases in slope, and increases in vegetative roughness appear to have caused biogeomorphic feedbacks, thereby exacerbating sediment deposition, and disrupting flood conveyance. In recent decades, there has been an increase in the travel time of floods up to ~100% compared to floods of the 1940s and 1950s, and this has likely led to increased flood attenuation, contributing to decreases in peak-flow magnitude. The progressive increase in water development in parts of the basin has also likely played some role in the progressive declines in peak flow over the duration of the study.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Geomorphic change and biogeomorphic feedbacks in a dryland river: The Little Colorado River, Arizona, USA
Series title GSA Bulletin
DOI 10.1130/B35047.1
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher The Geological Society of America
Contributing office(s) Southwest Biological Science Center
Description Repository Item: 2019158; 23 p.
Country United States
State Arizona
Other Geospatial Little Colorado River
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