Distribution and characterization of in-channel large wood in relation to geomorphic patterns on a low-gradient river


E. R. Schenk, US Geological Survey, 12205 Sunrise Valley Dr., Reston, VA 20192, USA. E-mail: eschenk@usgs.gov


A 177 river km georeferenced aerial survey of in-channel large wood (LW) on the lower Roanoke River, NC was conducted to determine LW dynamics and distributions on an eastern USA low-gradient large river. Results indicate a system with approximately 75% of the LW available for transport either as detached individual LW or as LW in log jams. There were approximately 55 individual LW per river km and another 59 pieces in log jams per river km. Individual LW is a product of bank erosion (73% is produced through erosion) and is isolated on the mid and upper banks at low flow. This LW does not appear to be important for either aquatic habitat or as a human risk. Log jams rest near or at water level making them a factor in bank complexity in an otherwise homogenous fine-grained channel. A segmentation test was performed using LW frequency by river km to detect breaks in longitudinal distribution and to define homogeneous reaches of LW frequency. Homogeneous reaches were then analyzed to determine their relationship to bank height, channel width/depth, sinuosity, and gradient. Results show that log jams are a product of LW transport and occur more frequently in areas with high snag concentrations, low to intermediate bank heights, high sinuosity, high local LW recruitment rates, and narrow channel widths. The largest concentration of log jams (21.5 log jams/km) occurs in an actively eroding reach. Log jam concentrations downstream of this reach are lower due to a loss of river competency as the channel reaches sea level and the concurrent development of unvegetated mudflats separating the active channel from the floodplain forest. Substantial LW transport occurs on this low-gradient, dam-regulated large river; this study, paired with future research on transport mechanisms should provide resource managers and policymakers with options to better manage aquatic habitat while mitigating possible negative impacts to human interests. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.