Linking hydrologic and bedload transport models to simulate fluvial response to changing precipitation
Wednesday, 16 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Changes in precipitation can drive river aggradation or incision through their influence on both hillslope processes, which supply sediment to the channel, and sediment transport capacity, which moves sediment downstream. Whether a particular change in precipitation intensity and/or duration will result in aggradation or incision is difficult to predict due to these competing effects. In particular, fluvial response to climate change is sensitive to (1) thresholds and nonlinearities involved in sediment production and sediment transport, (2) how different modes of sediment production affect the grain size of the sediment provided to the channel, and (3) impacts of drainage basin geometry on sediment storage time and locations of rapid sediment production and/or transport. A better mechanistic understanding of the relationship between rainfall and river bed elevation changes will help us to understand modern river channel response to climate change and decipher the causes for fluvial terrace formation. Here we couple a hydrologic model, the Precipitation-Runoff Modeling System (PRMS), with a model of sediment transport through a fluvial network, sedFlow, to predict patterns of bed elevation change. We first perform schematic example simulations on an idealized synthetic landscape with a single river channel to show how simple fluvial systems can respond to changes in rainfall. We then expand these numerical tests to full fluvial networks, in which the segments of the tributary network propagate signals of aggradation and incision, leading to a more complex response that embodies the interference between magnitudes and time-scales of sediment transfer in the tributary links. We showcase the possible complexity of the fluvial response with an example from the Quebrada del Toro of NW Argentina, which is currently experiencing rapid and spatially-variable aggradation and incision, possibly in response to an increase in extreme rainfall events in the east-central Andes.