The hydrogeomorphic influences on alluvial gully erosion along the Mitchell River fluvial megafan

Authors


Correspondence to: J. G. Shellberg, Building N13, 1.19A, 170 Kessels Road, Nathan, Queensland 4111, Australia.

E-mail: j.shellberg@griffith.edu.au

Abstract

Hydrogeomorphic processes influencing alluvial gully erosion were evaluated at multiple spatial and temporal scales across the Mitchell River fluvial megafan in tropical Queensland, Australia. Longitudinal changes in floodplain inundation were quantified using river gauge data, local stage recorders and HEC-RAS modelling based on LiDAR topographic data. Intra- and interannual gully scarp retreat rates were measured using daily time-lapse photographs and annual GPS surveys. Erosion was analysed in response to different water sources and associated erosion processes across the floodplain perirheic zone, including direct rainfall, infiltration-excess runoff, soil-water seepage, river backwater and overbank flood inundation. The frequency of river flood inundation of alluvial gullies changed longitudinally according to river incision and confinement. Near the top of the megafan, flood water was contained within the macrochannel up to the 100-year recurrence interval, but river backwater still partially inundated adjacent gullies eroding into Pleistocene alluvium. In downstream Holocene floodplains, inundation of alluvial gullies occurred beyond the 2- to 5-year recurrence interval and contributed significantly to total annual erosion. However, most gully scarp retreat at all sites was driven by direct rainfall and infiltration-excess runoff, with the 24-h rainfall total being the most predictive variable. The remaining variability can be explained by seasonal vegetative conditions, complex cycles of soil wetting and drying, tension crack development, near-surface pore-water pressure, soil block undermining from spalling and overland flow, and soil property heterogeneity. Implications for grazing management impacts on soil surface and perennial grass conditions include effects on direct rainfall erosion, water infiltration, runoff volume, water concentration along tracks, and the resistance of highly dispersible soils to gully initiation or propagation under intense tropical rainfall. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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