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Self-adjustment of stream bed roughness and flow velocity in a steep mountain channel

Authors

  • Johannes M. Schneider,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Environmental Systems Science, ETH Zurich, Zürich, Switzerland
    2. Mountain Hydrology and Mass Movements, Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Birmensdorf, Switzerland
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  • Dieter Rickenmann,

    1. Mountain Hydrology and Mass Movements, Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Birmensdorf, Switzerland
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  • Jens M. Turowski,

    1. Mountain Hydrology and Mass Movements, Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Birmensdorf, Switzerland
    2. Helmholtz Centre Potsdam, GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Potsdam, Germany
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  • James W. Kirchner

    1. Department of Environmental Systems Science, ETH Zurich, Zürich, Switzerland
    2. Mountain Hydrology and Mass Movements, Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Birmensdorf, Switzerland
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Abstract

Understanding how channel bed morphology affects flow conditions (and vice versa) is important for a wide range of fluvial processes and practical applications. We investigated interactions between bed roughness and flow velocity in a steep, glacier-fed mountain stream (Riedbach, Ct. Valais, Switzerland) with almost flume-like boundary conditions. Bed gradient increases along the 1 km study reach by roughly 1 order of magnitude (S = 3–41%), with a corresponding increase in streambed roughness, while flow discharge and width remain approximately constant due to the glacial runoff regime. Streambed roughness was characterized by semivariograms and standard deviations of point clouds derived from terrestrial laser scanning. Reach-averaged flow velocity was derived from dye tracer breakthrough curves measured by 10 fluorometers installed along the channel. Commonly used flow resistance approaches (Darcy-Weisbach equation and dimensionless hydraulic geometry) were used to relate the measured bulk velocity to bed characteristics. As a roughness measure, D84 yielded comparable results to more laborious measures derived from point clouds. Flow resistance behavior across this large range of steep slopes agreed with patterns established in previous studies for both lower-gradient and steep reaches, regardless of which roughness measures were used. We linked empirical critical shear stress approaches to the variable power equation for flow resistance to investigate the change of bed roughness with channel slope. The predicted increase in D84 with increasing channel slope was in good agreement with field observations.

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