Quantifying flood duration controls on chute cutoff formation in a wandering gravel-bed river

Friday, 19 December 2014
April Sawyer, University of Montana, Missoula, MT, United States and Andrew C Wilcox, University of Montana, Geosciences, Missoula, MT, United States
Chute cutoffs, which occur when a bypass or “chute” channel incises across a point or braid bar, distribute water and sediment, regulate sinuosity, and create off-channel habitat in wandering gravel-bed rivers. Cutoffs have been hypothesized to occur by progressive migration preparing a bend for cutoff, after which overbank flow events provide a trigger to excavate new channels. This trigger may depend on the magnitude and duration of floods and their associated sediment fluxes. Here we investigated how overbank flow duration impacts cutoff formation in a wandering gravel-bed river. To explore this, we applied a two-dimensional hydrodynamic model to a recently reconstructed reach of the Clark Fork River in western Montana that experienced chute cutoffs during a long-duration flood event in 2011. Hydrographs exceeding bankfull and with varying durations were simulated to constrain the role of overbank flow duration on erosional work in chute cutoff channels. For each magnitude-frequency-duration combination, cumulative excess shear stress (i.e., above the threshold of sediment mobilization) was quantified for in-channel and overbank areas. Locations of shear stress divergence associated with morphological change were identified along chute pathways. Preliminary results suggest that overbank areas containing concentrated flowpaths such as swales follow cumulative excess shear stress curve patterns similar to in-channel areas. This work describes a dynamic system characteristic of wandering gravel-bed rivers in the Pacific Northwest, and has implications for understanding morphodynamic evolution, river restoration targeting off-channel habitat for fish, and geomorphic flow regime management in regulated rivers.