Downstream coarsening in headwater channels

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Abstract

[1] Field data from four mountain drainage basins in western Washington document systematic downstream coarsening of median bed surface grain size (D50) and a subsequent shift to downstream fining at a drainage area of about 10 km2. Analyses of network-wide patterns of unit stream power derived from both channel surveys and digital elevation models reveal maximum unit stream power that in all four study areas roughly corresponds with both the grain size maxima and an inflection in the drainage area-slope relation thought to represent the transition from debris flow-dominated channels to fluvially dominated channels. Our results support the hypothesis that basin-wide trends in D50 are hydraulically controlled by systematic variations in unit stream power in addition to lag deposits forced by mass-wasting processes. The similar relations found in our four study areas suggest that the tendency for downstream coarsening may be ubiquitous in headwater reaches of mountain drainage basins where debris flow processes set the channel gradient.

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