Drainage basins, channels, and flow characteristics of selected streams in central Pennsylvania

Professional Paper 282-F




The hydraulic, basin, and geologic characteristics of 16 selected streams in central Pennsylvania were measured for the purpose of studying the relations among these general characteristics and their process of development. The basic parameters which were measured include bankfull width and depth, channel slope, bed material size and shape, length of stream from drainage divide, and size of drainage area. The kinds of bedrock over which the streams flow were noted. In these streams the bankfull channel is filled by flows approximating the 2.3-year flood. By measuring the breadth and mean depth of the channel, it was possible to compute the bankfull mean velocity for each of the 119 sampling stations. These data were then used to compute the downstream changes in hydraulic geometry of the streams studied. This method has been called an indirect computation of the hydraulic geometry. The results obtained by the indirect method are similar to those of the direct method of other workers. The basins were studied by examining the relations of drainage area, discharge, and length of stream from drainage divide. For the streams investigated, excellent correlations were found to exist between drainage area and the 2.3-year flood, as well as between length of stream from the basin divide and drainage area. From these correlations it is possible to predict the discharge for the 2.3-year flood at any arbitrary point along the length of the stream. The long, intermediate, and short axes of pebbles sampled from the bed of the stream were recorded to study both size and sphericity changes along individual streams and among the streams studied. No systematic downstream changes in sphericity were found. Particle size changes are erratic and show no consistent relation to channel slope. Particle size decreases downstream in many streams but remains constant or increases in others. Addition of material by tributaries is one factor affecting particle size and another is the parent material. Wear does not appear to account for some of the changes noted in particle size in a downstream direction. Comparison with laboratory studies indicates that at least in some streams the downstream decrease in size is much greater than would be expected from wear alone. The type of bedrock underlying the channels included in this study appears to affect both channel slope and particle size. For a given length of stream, a stream channel underlain by sandstone tends to have a steeper slope and larger bed material than channels underlain by shale or limestone. Hence, a stream which heads in sandstone and ends in limestone tends to have a more rapid decrease in slope and particle size than a stream heading in limestone and ending in sandstone. The association of steep slopes and small particles for limestone channels implies that slope and particle size may show a vague correlation between lithologic groups although no correlation may exist within a given lithologic type. In addition to the effect of bedrock on slope and particle size, there is some evidence that channels in limestone or dolomite have a slightly smaller cross section at bankfull stage than channels in shale or sandstone. Near the headwaters of many of these streams, a deposit of periglacial rubble affects the slope and bed material size. Some of the debris contains residual boulders which are too large to be moved by ordinary floods and, therefore, impose larger particle sizes in the bed of the stream. The addition of this very coarse debris to the bed material is another example of the influence of geologic factors on stream channels even though the channel consists of unconsolidated debris instead of bedrock. The influence of geologic factors noted in selected streams in central Pennsylvania may not be directly applicable to areas other than the Appalachian Mountains, but the general process is no doubt similar in most areas. In large alluvial valleys bedrock cannot be much of an influencing factor; yet large, thick alluvial deposits and terraces are in a sense "bedrock" materials upon which the stream works to form the landscape.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Drainage basins, channels, and flow characteristics of selected streams in central Pennsylvania
Series title:
Professional Paper
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Government Printing Office
Contributing office(s):
Pennsylvania Water Science Center
p. 145-181