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Keywords:

  • natural levees;
  • Saskatchewan River;
  • flood-deposit thickness;
  • crest heights;
  • Cumberland Marshes

Abstract

Natural levees control the exchange of water between an alluvial channel and its floodplain, but little is known about the spatial distribution and evolution of levee heights. The summer 2005 flood of the Saskatchewan River (Cumberland Marshes, east-central Saskatchewan) inundated large areas of floodplain for up to seven weeks, forming prominent new deposits on natural levees along main-stem channels. Measurements of flood-deposit thickness and crest heights of 61 levee pairs show that the thickest deposits occur on the lower pre-flood levee in 80% of the sites, though no clear relationship exists between deposit thickness and magnitude of height difference. Only 16% of the pairs displayed thicker deposits on the higher levee, half of which occurred at sites where relatively clear floodbasin waters re-entered turbid channels during general flooding. Difference in crest elevation (ΔE) between paired levees is approximately log-normally distributed, both before and after the flood, though with different mean values. Supplemental observations from tank experiments indicate that during near-bankfull flows, temporally and spatially variable deposition and erosion occur on levees due to backwater effects associated with nearby channel bars and irregular rises of the channel bed forced by channel extension. During floods, preferential deposition in lows tends to even out crest heights. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.