Change in bedload transport frequency with climate warming in gravel-bed streams of the Oregon Cascades

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Laura A Hempel, Gordon Grant, Sarah Lewis and Mohammad Safeeq, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, United States
Previous modeling studies have predicted that high flows in the Oregon Cascades will become larger and shift towards earlier in the winter season with climate warming. The impact of those changes on bedload transport frequency and channel morphology remains unknown, however. We examined changes in the timing and magnitude of bedload transport under modeled flow scenarios to identify which rivers draining the Cascades with different hydrologic regimes are most vulnerable to increased frequency of bedload transport. Such increases in the frequency or magnitude of gravel entrainment might lead to disturbance of fragile salmon or bull trout habitat. We calculated bedload transport rates using field measurements of surface sediment size, channel geometry, and channel slope along 14 reaches that included streams with a range of drainage areas and flow regimes (i.e., spring-fed and surface-runoff dominated). Our findings suggest that both spring-fed and surface-runoff streams are vulnerable to predicted changes in the flow regime, but in different ways. Spring-fed streams, characterized by relatively uniform discharge, will likely experience changes in both the timing and magnitude of transport. Spring-fed streams are poised just above the critical transport threshold for a large portion of the year, therefore small changes in the highest flows may lead to marked changes in transport rates. Transport events in surface-runoff streams, which are already characterized by flashy flows, will likely become larger and more frequent. Changes in the frequency and timing of bedload transport in both spring-fed and surface runoff streams will impact bed stability and texture and should be considered for managing these watersheds in the future.