How High Do Sandbars Grow?

Friday, 18 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Jason S Alexander and Brandon J McElroy, University of Wyoming, Geology and Geophysics, Laramie, WY, United States
Bar forms in wide sandy rivers store sediment, control channel hydraulics, and are fundamental units of riverine ecosystems. Bar form height is often used as a measure of channel depth in ancient fluvial deposits and is also a crucially important measure of habitat quality in modern rivers. In the Great Plains of North America, priority bird species use emergent bars to nest, and sandbar heights are a direct predictor of flood hazard for bird nests. Our current understanding of controls on bar height are limited to few datasets and ad hoc observations from specific settings. We here examine a new dataset of bar heights and explore models of bar growth.

We present bar a height dataset from the Platte and Niobrara Rivers in Nebraska, and an unchannelized reach of the Missouri River along the Nebraska-South Dakota border. Bar height data are normalized by flow frequency, and we examine parsimonious statistical models between expected controls (depth, stage, discharge, flow duration, work etc.) and maximum bar heights. From this we generate empirical-statistical models of maximum bar height for wide, sand-bedded rivers in the Great Plains of the United States and rivers of similar morphology elsewhere.

Migration of bar forms is driven by downstream slip-face additions of sediment sourced from their stoss sides, but bars also sequester sediment and grow vertically and longitudinally. We explore our empirical data with a geometric-kinematic model of bar growth driven by sediment transport from smaller-scale bedforms. Our goal is to understand physical limitations on bar growth and geometry, with implications for interpreting the rock record and predicting physically-driven riverine habitat variables.