Sediment transport-storage relations for degrading, gravel bed channels



[1] In a drainage network, sediment is transferred through a series of channel/valley segments (natural sediment storage reservoirs) that are distinguished from their neighbors by their particular capacity to store and transport sediment. We propose that the sediment transport capacity of each reservoir is a unique positive function of storage volume, which influences sediment mobility and availability through variations in bed surface texture, channel gradient, and availability of valley floor sediments for erosion. Examinations of the form of transport-storage relations of degrading alluvial reservoirs using published field studies, flume experiments, and simulations support a conceptual model that includes two phases. In phase I, filled channels respond to variations in supply primarily by changes in stored sediment volume, with little change in transport rate. In phase II, channel mobility is responsive to supply through armoring and form roughness. Although these phases could represent idealized transport-limited (phase 1) or supply-limited (phase II) states, we propose that every alluvial reservoir responds to changes in sediment inputs by changing both storage and transport rate, the propensity for either depending on reservoir characteristics and the sediment exchange processes in the channel. Transport-storage relations for phase II are approximately linear, but examination of numerical simulations and flume experiments indicates that armoring imparts positive curvature. Simulations of degradation of an alluvial reservoir with channel and valley floor surfaces indicate that interactions between channel lowering and lateral erosion are critical in the manifestation of a transport-storage relation. Better knowledge of transport–storage relations could lead to improved sediment-routing models for drainage basins wherein component sediment reservoirs dynamically adjust to varying sediment loads.