Seismic Monitoring of Bedload Transport in a Steep Mountain Catchment

Friday, 19 December 2014
Danica L Roth1, Noah J Finnegan1, Emily E Brodsky1, Jens M Turowski2,3, Carlos R Wyss3,4 and Alexandre Badoux3, (1)University of California Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA, United States, (2)GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Potsdam, Germany, (3)WSL Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, Birmensdorf, Switzerland, (4)ETH Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
Predicting river channel evolution relies on an understanding of when and at what rate coarse sediment moves in a channel. Unfortunately, our predictive abilities are limited by the logistical challenges and potential dangers inherent in current techniques for monitoring sediment transport during flood events, especially in steep, highly active landscapes. However, the use of seismic signals near rivers shows promise as a safe, low-cost method for studying sediment transport in these settings. Seismic signals near rivers are partially generated by both water turbulence and bedload sediment particles impacting the river bed during transport. Here, we attempt to isolate the seismic signatures of discharge and bedload transport in a steep mountain channel by examining high-frequency broadband seismic data from the well-studied Erlenbach stream (local slope of ~10%) in the Swiss Prealps. The extensive monitoring infrastructure and long history of sediment transport data at this field site allow us to independently constrain discharge, precipitation, and bedload transport during flood events over a two month field campaign. We perform a general linear least squares inversion of the seismic data, exploiting times with isolated rain or discharge events, to identify the spectral signals of water turbulence, rain, and bedload sediment transport. We find that the signal generated by rain exhibits a roughly broadband spectrum, while discharge and sediment transport exhibit power primarily in lower frequency bands. Our preliminary results indicate that with only precipitation and discharge data, it is possible to isolate the seismic signal of bedload transport in steep fluvial environments. Seismic studies may therefore have the potential to revolutionize our ability to monitor and understand these environments.