Geography & Environment Publications

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Earth Surface Processes and Landforms

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The morphological active width, defined as the lateral extent of bed-material displacement over time, is a fundamental parameter in multi-threaded gravel-bed rivers, linking complex channel dynamics to bedload transport. Here, results are presented from 5 constant discharge experiments, and three event hydrographs, covering a range of flow strengths and channel configurations for which morphological change, bedload transport rates, and stream power were measured in a physical model. Changes in channel morphology were determined via differencing of photogrammetrically-derived digital elevation models (DEMs) of the model surface generated at regular intervals over the course of ~115 hours of experimental runs. Independent measures of total bedload output were made using downstream sediment baskets. Results indicate that the morphological active width increases with total and dimensionless stream power and is strongly and positively correlated with bulk change (total volume of bed-material displaced over time) and active braiding intensity (ABI). Although there is considerable scatter due to the inherent variability in braided river morphodynamics, the active width is positively correlated with independent measurements of bedload transport rate. Active width, bulk change, and bedload transport rates were all negligible below a dimensionless stream power threshold value of ~ 0.09, above which all increase with flow strength. Therefore, the active width could be used as a general predictor of bulk change and bedload transport rates, which in turn could be approximated from total and dimensionless stream power or ABI in gravel-bed braided rivers. Furthermore, results highlight the importance of the active width, rather than the morphological active depth, in predicting volumes of change and bedload transport rates. The results contribute to the larger goals of better understanding of braided river morphodynamics, creating large high-resolution datasets of channel change for model calibration and validation, and developing morphological methods for predicting bedload transport rates in braiding river systems.


This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: The variability in the morphological active width: Results from physical models of gravel‐bed braided rivers, in Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, Vol. 43(11), 2018 which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.

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