A one-dimensional model of bifurcations in gravel bed channels with erodible banks



[1] In a recent paper, Bolla Pittaluga et al. proposed a physically based formulation for the nodal point conditions to be adopted at a channel bifurcation in the context of a one-dimensional approach. They employed such conditions to study the equilibrium configurations of a simple bifurcation and their stability, assuming erodible bed and fixed banks. With the present work we extend the model proposed by Bolla Pittaluga et al. to the case of channels with erodible banks, i.e., channels which may adapt their width to the actual flow conditions. Such an extension is of a particular interest for river bifurcations in gravel bed braided streams, in which bed evolution and bank erosion processes occur over comparable timescales. Moreover, to study the morphological evolution of a bifurcation, we employ a different approach with respect to Bolla Pittaluga et al. and introduce a “local analysis” which does not account for the influence exerted on channel morphology by downstream conditions on longer timescales. For values of the controlling parameters typical of gravel bed braided streams, the model shows that the stable equilibrium solutions of a bifurcation are invariably characterized by a strongly unbalanced partition of water and sediment discharges in the two branches. Numerical simulations, based on a simplified model of the bifurcation evolution, allow us to investigate the role of the mechanism of generation of a bifurcation on its final equilibrium configurations. It is shown that bifurcations which form through the incision of a new, initially narrow, channel may lead to significantly different equilibrium configurations with respect to bifurcations which generate from a central deposition in a wide channel. In spite of its simplicity the model seems to retain the most relevant effects which govern the behavior of gravel bed channel bifurcations.