The roles of flood magnitude and duration in controlling channel width and complexity on the Green River in Canyonlands, Utah, USA

Geomorphology
By: , and 

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Abstract

Predictions of river channel adjustment to changes in streamflow regime based on relations between mean channel characteristics and mean flood magnitude can be useful to evaluate average channel response. However, because these relations assume equilibrium sediment transport, their applicability to cases where streamflow and sediment transport are decoupled may be limited. These general relations also lack the specificity that is required to connect specific characteristics of the streamflow and sediment regime with the dynamics of channel morphological change that create channel complexity, which is often of ecological interest. We integrate historical records of channel change, observations of scour and fill during a snowmelt flood, measurements of sediment transport, and predictions from a two-dimensional streamflow model to describe how annual peak flow magnitude and peak-flow duration interact with the upstream sediment supply to control channel form for a 15-km study reach on the regulated Green River in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. Two major decadal-scale episodes of channel narrowing have occurred within the study area. For each of these episodes, the reduction in average channel width was consistent with the change predicted by hydraulic geometry relations as a function of average flood magnitude. However, channel narrowing occurred during periods of exceptionally low annual floods. The most recent episode of channel narrowing occurred between 1988 and 2009, during low-flow cycles when the 5-yr mean peak flow was less than 60% of the long-term (1959–2016) mean peak flow. These findings, together with findings from previous studies, demonstrate that decreases in peak-flow magnitude caused by streamflow regulation, climate change, or a combination of those factors have driven episodes of channel narrowing on the Green River. Observations of streamflow, sediment-transport, and morphologic change coupled with predictions from a two-dimensional streamflow model indicate that peak flow magnitudes of at least 75% of the long-term mean peak flow are required to transport bed-material sand in suspension in all regions of the multi-thread channel and that the ~2-month duration of the snowmelt flood played an important role in creating conditions necessary to maintain channel conveyance. These results indicate that detailed characterizations of channel response such as these are needed to predict how river channels will respond to changes in streamflow regime that affect annual peak flow magnitude and duration.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title The roles of flood magnitude and duration in controlling channel width and complexity on the Green River in Canyonlands, Utah, USA
Series title Geomorphology
DOI 10.1016/j.geomorph.2020.107438
Volume 371
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Southwest Biological Science Center
Description 107438, 14 p.
Country United States
State Utah
Other Geospatial Canyonlands National Park
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