Numerical modeling of episodic sediment supply events to headwater channels and subsequent fluvial sediment transport

Friday, 19 December 2014
Tobias Müller and Marwan A Hassan, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
In steep headwater catchments episodic events can rapidly contribute large amounts of sediment to the channel network. The fluvial system may react to this input in different ways, ranging from a swift evacuation of the contributed material to a long term morphological adjustment of the channel. How this response affects fluvial sediment transport is poorly understood and is scope of our study.

We set up a numerical model to investigate how different magnitudes, frequencies and grain size distributions (GSD) of sediment supply events influence the sediment dynamics in the fluvial system. We used a randomized time series of disturbances and simulated subsequent fluvial reworking using a bed load transport model. Besides tracking the volume of stored sediment, we investigate changes in the GSD of the channel.

In our model, the GSD of the fluvial channel approaches the GSD of the sediment input under high supply conditions, in which large quantities of material are supplied by a high frequency of events. This results in an exceedance of the ability of the fluvial system to significantly evacuate the supply. On the other hand, if the fluvial system is given enough time to rework the input material, the GSD of the channel gets coarser with time, as the smaller grain sizes are transported away. We further analyze the conditions under which the system is stable or more sensitive to changes in the magnitude or frequency of sediment supply.

Our model shows how the combination of episodic time scales of disturbances and constant time scales of fluvial reworking results in temporal patterns of fluvial sediment transport.