Evaluation of High-Temporal-Resolution Bedload Sensors for Tracking Channel Bed Movement and Transport Thresholds in Forested Mountain Headwater Catchments.
Abstract:High temporal resolution data is required to take channel bed movement data beyond time integrated changes between measurements where many of the subtleties of bedload movement patterns are often missed. This study used continuous bedload scour sensors (flexible, fluid-filled pans connected to a pressure transducer) to collect high temporal resolution, long term bedload movement data for 4 high elevation (1500-1800 m) Sierra Nevada headwater streams draining 1 km2 catchments and to investigate the physical channel characteristics under which they perform best. Data collected by the scour sensors were used to investigate the disturbance and recovery patterns of these streams, to relate the observed patterns to channel bed stability, and to evaluate whether the channel bed is acting as a sediment source, sink, or storage across various temporal scales. Finally, attempts are made to identify discharge thresholds for bed movement from scour sensor and discharge data and to compare these threshold values to observed changes in the channel bed.
Bedload scour data, turbidity data, and stream discharge data were collected at 15 minute intervals for (WY 2011 to WY 2014), including both above average (2011) and below average (2012, 2013, 2014) water years. Bedload scour sensors were found to have a relatively high (60%) failure rate in these systems. In addition, they required in situ calibrations as the factory and laboratory calibrations did not translate well to the field deployments. Data from the working sensors, showed patterns of abrupt channel bed disturbance (scour and/or fill) on an hour to day temporal scale followed by gradual recovery on a day to month scale back to a stable equilibrium bed surface elevation. These observed patterns suggest the bed acts as a short term source or sink for sediment, but is roughly sediment neutral over longer time periods implying the changes in bed elevation are reflective of fluctuations in storage rather than a true source or sink. Overall, these sensors show promise for collecting continuous data for high gradient, forested, mountain streams. Additional benefits include their relatively low cost both monetarily (under $1000) and in labor compared to traditional methods as well as not requiring the trade-off between temporal resolution and length of study that traditional methods do.