Field experiments of nonlocal sediment transport on a steep hillslope
Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 10:20 AM
Steep rocky hillslopes dominate the areal extent of rapidly uplifting mountain ranges, and pose a significant hazard to encroaching population centers. Existing models for hillslope sediment transport developed for soil-mantled landscapes are poorly suited to explain the evolution of steep hillslopes characterized by: (1) intermittent or patchy soil cover, (2) slopes that exceed the angle of repose, and (3) transport events that often involve long travel distances. Recently, nonlocal formulations of hillslope sediment transport laws that account for long travel distances have been proposed to overcome the limitations of traditional continuum-based models. However, their application to natural landscapes has been limited owing to few field constraints on key parameters, and computational difficulties expanding the framework to two-dimensions. To address this knowledge gap, we performed a series of field experiments on natural hillslopes to inform a simple particle-based model of hillslope sediment transport. We compiled the distribution of average velocity and transport distance for over 300 stones ranging in diameter from 2-10 cm using a video camera and laser range-finder. To characterize surface roughness, we used a tripod-based laser scanner to generate a 1 cm-resolution digital elevation model of each 30 m long hillslope. We find that hillslope travel distance follows a heavy-tailed distribution that varies systematically with the ratio of particle diameter to roughness height, in general agreement to published laboratory experiments. Mean particle velocity ranges from 1-3 m/s and scales weakly with distance traveled. Our modeling exercise reveals three key effects that should be included in any treatment of steep hillslope evolution: (1) there is a strong grain-size and surface roughness dependence on sediment transport distance, (2) sediment storage on slopes steeper than the angle of repose is possible due to vegetation or topographic roughness, and (3) sediment flux from steep rocky hillslopes depends on both slope and the temporal evolution of surface roughness, e.g., due to landslides or wildfire.