Effects of large organic material on channel form and fluvial processes



Stream channel development in forested areas is profoundly influenced by large organic debris (logs, limbs and rootwads greater than 10 cm in diameter) in the channels.

In low gradient meandering streams large organic debris enters the channel through bank erosion, mass wasting, blowdown, and collapse of trees due to ice loading. In small streams large organic debris may locally influence channel morphology and sediment transport processes because the stream may not have the competency to redistribute the debris. In larger streams flowing water may move large organic debris, concentrating it into distinct accumulations (debris jams). Organic debris may greatly affect channel form and process by: increasing or decreasing stability of stream banks; influencing development of midchannel bars and short braided reaches; and facilitating, with other favourable circumstances, development of meander cutoffs.

In steep gradient mountain streams organic debris may enter the channel by all the processes mentioned for low gradient streams. In addition, considerable debris may also enter the channel by way of debris avalanches or debris torrents. In small to intermediate size mountain streams with steep valley walls and little or no floodplain or flat valley floor, the effects of large organic debris on the fluvial processes and channel form may be very significant. Debris jams may locally accelerate or retard channel bed and bank erosion and/or deposition; create sites for significant sediment storage; and produce a stepped channel profile, herein referred to as ‘organic stepping’, which provides for variable channel morphology and flow conditions.

The effect of live or dead trees anchored by rootwads into the stream bank may not only greatly retard bank erosion but also influence channel width and the development of small scour holes along the channel beneath tree roots. Once trees fall into the stream, their influence on the channel form and process may be quite different than when they were defending the banks, and, depending on the size of the debris, size of the stream, and many other factors, their effects range from insignificant to very important.