Geography & Environment Publications

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Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface

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Channel form and sediment transport are closely linked in alluvial rivers, and as such the development of a conceptual framework for the downstream controls on particle mobility and likely deposition sites has immense value in terms of the way we understand and predictively model rivers. Despite the development of conceptual models which frame flood-scale particle transport distance (termed path length) as a function of channel bar locations, an understanding of the controls on such path lengths in braided rivers remains especially elusive, in large part due to the difficulty in explicitly linking morphology and particle transport distances in the field. Here we utilize a series of laboratory flume experiments to link path length distances with channel morphology. Our morphologic characterization is based on ultrahigh-resolution digital elevation models and bar classifications derived from structure-from-motion topography, while we simultaneously capture particle path lengths using fluorescent tracer particles over the course of five physical model simulations. Our findings underscore the importance of channel bars in acting as deposition sites for particles in transport; 81% of recovered tracers were found in association with compound, point, lateral, or diagonal bars. Bar heads (29%) and bar margins (41%) were the most common bar-related deposition surfaces for recovered tracers. Peaks in particle deposition frequency corresponding to channel bars were often noted on path length distributions from tracer data; most tracers were deposited in areas that had experienced shallow (Δz = 0.002 m) deposition. Average path length distance (2.5 m) was closely related to average confluence-diffluence spacing (2.3 m) across all runs. The transferability of this understanding to braided streams has important implications for the development of simplified morphodynamic models which seek to predict braided channel evolution across multiflood timescales

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