The Cascade of Non-Stationarity

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 11:20 AM
Patrick Belmont, Karthik Kumarasamy, Sara Ann Kelly, Keelin Rae Schaffrath and Tim J Beach, Utah State University, Department of Watershed Sciences, Logan, UT, United States
Landscapes and channel networks are dynamic systems, often characterized by immense variability in time and space. Systematic shifts in hydrologic, geomorphic, or ecologic drivers can cause a cascade of changes within the system, which may fundamentally alter the way the system itself functions. Due to variability in resilience and resisting forces throughout the landscape, this cascade of changes may manifest in different ways within any given system. Humans may also exert considerable influence, often amplifying or damping system response. We illustrate the cascading effects of non-stationary hydrology and geomorphology in the Minnesota River Basin (MRB), a 44,000 km2 natural laboratory in which pervasive landscape disturbance has been triggered by several well-documented events. Rapid base-level lowering 13,400 YBP along the mainstem Minnesota River created a wave of incision, which continues to propagate up tributary channel networks. Temperature and precipitation have changed significantly in the MRB over the past century with rising temperatures, shifting precipitation patterns and an increase in heavy rainfall events. Streamflow has changed drastically and variably throughout the basin with 5% exceedance flows increasing 60-100% in recent decades, as increases in precipitation have been amplified by land management and artificial drainage. Increases in channel width and depth have occurred variably in the mainstem Minnesota River, the actively incising lower (knick zone) reaches of tributaries, and the low gradient, passively meandering reaches above the knick zones. Altered hydrologic regimes and channel morphologies, combined with increased sedimentation and nutrient loading have adversely affected aquatic biota via disruption of life cycles and habitat degradation. Existing landscape, water quality, and flood risk models are poorly equipped to deal with the cascading effects of non-stationarity and therefore may grossly over- or under-predict environmental impacts of climate change or human land and water management decisions. We present a simple model in which systematic changes can be propagated through a landscape in a topographically and ecologically-sensitive manner as an initial step towards a robust, landscape scale morphodynamic routing model.