Earth Surface Dynamics
Published by Copernicus Publications on behalf of the European Geosciences Union
Sediment routing fundamentally influences channel morphology and propagation of disturbances. However, the transport and storage of bedload particles in headwater channel confluences, which may be significant nodes of the channel network in terms of sediment routing, morphology, and habitat, is poorly understood. To characterize routing processes through confluences of headwater channels, we investigate how sediment routing patterns through headwater confluences compare to those described in low-gradient gravel bed river systems, and how confluences affect the dispersive behavior of coarse bedload particles compared to non-confluence reaches. We address these questions with a field tracer experiment using passive-integrated transponder and radio-frequency identification technology in the East Fork Bitterroot River basin, Montana, USA. Within the confluence zone, transport occurs along scour hole margins in narrow, efficient transport corridors that mirror those observed in finer-grained experiments and field studies. Coarse particles entering confluences experience reduced depositional probabilities, in contrast to the size-selective transport observed in a control reach. Stochastic transport modeling, tail analysis, and use of a dimensionless impulse (I*) suggest that transport distance and variance growth are enhanced through confluences for a given flow strength. We suggest that confluences absent of disturbances enhance sediment transport and dispersive growth through headwater networks.
© Author(s) 2015
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