Visual Mapping of Sedimentary Facies Can Yield Accurate And Geomorphically Meaningful Results at Morphological Unit to River Segment Scales
Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Long practiced in fisheries, visual substrate mapping of coarse-bedded rivers is eschewed by geomorphologists for inaccuracy and limited sizing data. Geomorphologists perform time-consuming measurements of surficial grains, with the few locations precluding spatially explicit mapping and analysis of sediment facies. Remote sensing works for bare land, but not vegetated or subaqueous sediments. As visual systems apply the log2 Wentworth scale made for sieving, they suffer from human inability to readily discern those classes. We hypothesized that size classes centered on the PDF of the anticipated sediment size distribution would enable field crews to accurately (i) identify presence/absence of each class in a facies patch and (ii) estimate the relative amount of each class to within 10%. We first tested 6 people using 14 measured samples with different mixtures. Next, we carried out facies mapping for ~ 37 km of the lower Yuba River in California. Finally, we tested the resulting data to see if it produced statistically significant hydraulic-sedimentary-geomorphic results. Presence/absence performance error was 0-4% for four people, 13% for one person, and 33% for one person. The last person was excluded from further effort. For the abundance estimation performance error was 1% for one person, 7-12% for three people, and 33% for one person. This last person was further trained and re-tested. We found that the samples easiest to visually quantify were unimodal and bimodal, while those most difficult had nearly equal amounts of each size. This confirms psychological studies showing that humans have a more difficult time quantifying abundances of subgroups when confronted with well-mixed groups. In the Yuba, mean grain size decreased downstream, as is typical for an alluvial river. When averaged by reach, mean grain size and bed slope were correlated with an r2 of 0.95. At the morphological unit (MU) scale, eight in-channel bed MU types had an r2 of 0.90 between mean size and MU-average velocity computed using a 2D model. In conclusion, visual mapping of sediment facies is highly feasible over long distances and accurate at MU to segment scales when size classes are distributed about the expected PDF instead of based on the log2 scale. Geomorphologists should reconsider the potential value for spatially explicit mapping.