Year of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Campus Access Only

Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of Geosciences

Committee Chair

Andrew C. Wilcox

Commitee Members

Marco L. Maneta, Kelsey Jencso


chute cutoffs, fluvial geomorphology, floods, duration, hydraulic modeling, river restoration


University of Montana

Subject Categories



Chute cutoffs occur when a bypass or “chute” channel incises across a bar or low floodplain area, redistributing water and sediment. Cutoffs result from a setup and a triggering event, typically during overbank flow, but the combined effect of magnitude and duration on potential erosion in in-channel and overbank areas is still poorly constrained. Here I investigated how overbank flow duration impacts cutoff formation and spatiotemporal shear stress patterns in a wandering gravel-bed river. I applied a two-dimensional hydraulic model to a recently reconstructed reach of the Clark Fork River in western Montana that experienced chute cutoffs during a long-duration flood in 2011. Hydrographs with increasing durations exceeding overbank were simulated; for each magnitude-duration combination, various metrics were quantified for in-channel and overbank areas separately. I confirm the hypothesized importance of floodplain elevation, vegetation presence, chute-channel inlet entrance location, and high overbank shear stress zones at bend apexes on cutoff occurrence. Floodplain width plays an important role in controlling unit discharge such that overbank areas are more competent in a narrower floodplain conveyance corridor. Duration controls cumulative flow exceeding sediment mobility thresholds, having the largest effect in overbank areas. Side channels at the reconstructed study site act like naturally formed incipient chutes. This work describes a complex floodplain system characteristic of wandering gravel-bed rivers with implications for understanding morphodynamic evolution, river restoration, and flow management in regulated rivers.

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© Copyright 2015 April M. Sawyer