Reach-scale channel geometry of a mountain river



Mountain rivers can be subject to strong constraints imposed by changes in gradient and grain size supplied by processes such as glaciation and rockfall. Nonetheless, adjustments in the channel geometry and hydraulics of mountain rivers at the reach scale can produce discernible patterns analogous to those in fully alluvial rivers. Mountain rivers can differ in that imposed reach-scale gradient is an especially important control on reach-scale channel characteristics, as indicated by examination of North St Vrain Creek in Colorado.

North St Vrain Creek drains 250 km2 of the Rocky Mountains. We used 25 study reaches within the basin to examine controls on reach-scale channel geometry. Variables measured included channel geometry, large woody debris, grain size, and mean velocity. Drainage area at the study reaches ranged from 2·2 to 245 km2, and gradient from 0·013 to 0·147 m m−1.

We examined correlations among (1) potential reach-scale response variables describing channel bankfull dimension and shape, hydraulics, bedform wavelength and amplitude, grain size, flow resistance, standard deviation of hydraulic radius, and volume of large woody debris, and (2) potential control variables that change progressively downstream (drainage area, discharge) or that are likely to reflect a reach-specific control (bed gradient). We tested the hypothesis that response variables correlate most strongly with local bed gradient because of the segmented nature of mountain channels.

Results from simple linear regression analyses indicate that most response variables correlate best with gradient, although channel width and width/depth ratio correlate best with discharge. Multiple regression analyses using Mallow's Cp selection criterion and log-transformation of all variables produced similar results in that most response variables correlate strongly with gradient. These results suggest that the hypothesis is partially supported: channel bed gradient is likely to be a good predictor for many reach-scale response variables along mountain rivers, but discharge is also an important predictor for some response variables. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.