During 2011, many tributaries in the Missouri River Basin experienced near record peak streamflow and caused flood damage to many communities along much of the Missouri River from Montana to the confluence with the Mississippi River. The large runoff event in 2011 provided an opportunity to examine characteristics of sediment transport in the Missouri River at high-magnitude streamflow and for a long duration. The purpose of this report is to describe sediment characteristics during the 2011 high-flow conditions at six selected sites on the Missouri River, two in the middle region of the basin between Lake Sakakawea and Lake Oahe in North Dakota, and four downstream from Gavins Point Dam along the Nebraska-South Dakota and Nebraska-Iowa borders.
A wider range in suspended-sediment concentration was observed in the middle segment of the Missouri River compared to sites in the lower segment. In the middle segment of the Missouri River, suspended-sediment concentrations increased and peaked as flows increased and started to plateau; however, while flows were still high and steady, suspended-sediment concentrations decreased and suspended-sediment grain sizes coarsened, indicating the decrease possibly was related to fine-sediment supply limitations.
Measured bedload transport rates in the lower segment of the Missouri River (sites 3 to 6) were consistently higher than those in the middle segment (sites 1 and 2) during the high-flow conditions in 2011. The median bedload transport rate measured at site 1 was 517 tons per day and at site 2 was 1,500 tons per day. Measured bedload transport rates were highest at site 3 then decreased downstream to site 5, then increased at site 6. The median bedload transport rates were 22,100 tons per day at site 3; 5,640 tons per day at site 4; 3,930 tons per day at site 5; and 8,450 tons per day at site 6. At the two sites in the middle segment of the Missouri River, the greatest bedload was measured during the recession of the streamflow hydrograph. A similar pattern was observed at sites 3–5 in the lower segment of the Missouri River, where the greatest bedload was measured later in the event on the recession of the streamflow hydrograph, although the change in bedload was not as dramatic as observed at the sites in the middle segment of the Missouri River.
With the exception of site 3, the total-sediment load on the Missouri River was highest at the beginning of the high-flow event and decreased as streamflow decreased. In the middle segment of the Missouri River, measured total-sediment load ranged from 2,320 to 182,000 tons per day at site 1 and from 3,190 to 279,000 tons per day at site 2. In the lower segment of the Missouri River, measured total-sediment load ranged from 50,600 to 223,000 tons per day at site 4; from 23,500 to 403,000 tons per day at site 5; and from 52,700 to 273,000 tons per day at site 6.
The total-sediment load was dominated by suspended sediment at all of the sites measured on the Missouri River in 2011. In general, the percentage of total-sediment load that was bedload increased as the streamflow decreased, although this pattern was more prevalent at sites in the middle segment than those in the lower segment. The suspended-sediment load comprised an average of 93 percent of the total load, with the exception of site 3, where the suspended-sediment load comprised only 72 percent of the total-sediment load.