The Geomorphic Role of Large Woody Debris in River Avulsions

Friday, 19 December 2014: 11:35 AM
Justin C Stout1, James Robin Grove2, Ian Rutherfurd2 and Philip Marren2, (1)University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIC, Australia, (2)University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia
The avulsion or abandonment of a river channel in favor of a new course on the floodplain is integral to the development and maintenance of anabranching planforms. Avulsions tend to occur on rivers where the rate of vertical aggradation outpaces lateral migration. In fine cohesive floodplain sediments, avulsions evolve through five stages dependent on the amount of flow and sediment being captured by the new channel. There is limited data available to allow the prediction of autogenic and allogenic controls on: the time over which an avulsion is active; its likely location; the frequency of occurrence; and the length of the interavulsion period. The delivery of wood to the river channel is an autogenic process which has received much attention over the last three decades. Surprisingly it has not previously been considered in anabranch avulsions, apart from where log-jams entirely block channels. The presence of large woody debris in the channel acts as a roughness element, trapping, and impeding the movement of sediments and deflecting flow onto the floodplain. We hypothesize that the delivery rates of wood to the channel, and its subsequent configuration (i.e. dimension, amount, volume, spatial arrangement and blockage ratio), alters flow and sediment routing through the channel. These changes directly influence the stages of avulsion development. To test this conceptual model we have used eleven floodplain cores to reconstruct the timing of a Holocene avulsion. The morphology of the channel in each evolutionary stage was used to estimate the relative role of wood as a roughness element. This was done by coupling a mass balance wood delivery model, run in a Monte Carlo simulation, to the geomorphic processes of each evolutionary stage of the avulsion. Our results allow us to quantify the importance of in-channel wood during each stage of the avulsion. These data highlight that there are critical points in the evolution of anabranching channels when large wood influences the avulsion rate and location.