Topographic Signatures of Meandering Rivers with Differences in Outer Bank Cohesion

Friday, 19 December 2014
Sara Ann Kelly, Utah State University, Logan, UT, United States and Patrick Belmont, Utah State University, Department of Watershed Sciences, Logan, UT, United States
Within a given valley setting, interactions between river hydraulics, sediment, topography, and vegetation determine attributes of channel morphology, including planform, width and depth, slope, and bed and bank properties. These feedbacks also govern river behavior, including migration and avulsion. Bank cohesion, from the addition of fine sediment and/or vegetation has been recognized in flume experiments as a necessary component to create and maintain a meandering channel planform. Greater bank cohesion slows bank erosion, limiting the rate at which a river can adjust laterally and preventing so-called “runaway widening” to a braided state. Feedbacks of bank cohesion on channel hydraulics and sediment transport may thus produce distinct topographic signatures, or patterns in channel width, depth, and point bar transverse slope. We expect that in bends of greater outer bank cohesion the channel will be narrower, deeper, and bars will have greater transverse slopes. Only recently have we recognized that biotic processes may imprint distinct topographic signatures on the landscape. This study explores topographic signatures of three US rivers: the lower Minnesota River, near Mankato, MN, the Le Sueur River, south central MN, and the Fall River, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO. Each of these rivers has variability in outer bank cohesion, quantified based on geotechnical and vegetation properties, and in-channel topography, which was derived from rtkGPS and acoustic bathymetry surveys. We present methods for incorporating biophysical feedbacks into geomorphic transport laws so that models can better simulate the spatial patterns and variability of topographic signatures.