Examining the Relationship Between Suspended Sand Load and Bedload on the Colorado River Using Concurrent Measurements of Suspended Sand and Observations of Sand Dune Migration.

Friday, 18 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Thomas Ashley1, Brandon J McElroy1, Daniel Buscombe2, Paul E Grams3 and Matthew A Kaplinski4, (1)University of Wyoming, Geology and Geophysics, Laramie, WY, United States, (2)USGS Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center, Flagstaff, AZ, United States, (3)USGS Astrogeology Science Center, Flagstaff, AZ, United States, (4)Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ, United States
Spatial variability in sediment flux is directly related to geomorphic change. Along the Colorado River, measurements of sediment flux are used to track changes in sediment storage and time the release of controlled floods aimed at building eroded sandbars. The very high uncertainty typical of measurements of sediment flux has been reduced by a program of continuous measurement of suspended-sediment concentration by acoustic surrogates. However, there is still significant uncertainty in calculations of total flux. A large fraction of that uncertainty may be caused by overly simplified treatment of bedload flux, which is currently estimated as a constant 5% of the suspended sand flux. That constant is based on estimates of bedform migration rate made with side-scan sonar. Here, we apply theory which relates bedform migration and streamwise sediment flux, to bathymetric data collected at unprecedented temporal and spatial resolution adjacent to the USGS sediment monitoring station above Diamond Creek (362 km downstream from Lees Ferry, AZ). Quantitative time series measurements of reach averaged bedform transport are calculated and compared to fluxes estimated by expressing bedload as a constant fraction of suspended load. Over the range of discharges expected during normal dam operations, bedload transport estimated from the migration of bedforms in the study reach is at least 20% of instantaneous suspended sand load measured at the gage. While bedload appears to be controlled primarily by discharge (and therefore transport capacity of the flow), suspended sand load varies inversely with the grain size of suspended material, suggesting dependence on sediment supply. Sediment transport capacity can vary significantly at a given discharge depending on local hydraulic geometry, so it is likely that there is more spatial variability in bedload transport than suspended sand transport.