Water Resources Research

Coarse sediment transport in a bedrock channel with complex bed topography



[1] Independent lithologic and structural controls in fluvial bedrock systems interact with coarse sediment transport processes to play a key role in bedrock incision processes such as abrasion. During a 3 year study on the Ocoee River in the Blue Ridge Province of the southern Appalachians, USA, we used painted tracer clasts to measure coarse sediment transport dynamics and address whether different scales of morphologic variability in bedrock channels lead to coarse sediment transport processes that differ from alluvial channels. At the reach scale, folded metasedimentary units are exposed in the channel bed and appear as linear bedrock ribs that vary in amplitude and orientation to flow. Under similar flow conditions for which size-dependent transport has been observed in alluvial channels (dimensionless Shields stress within 1.5–2.0 times the dimensionless critical shear stress), transport distance was a significant function of grain size where bedrock ribs were longitudinal to flow (Reach 1 and Reach 2). However, transport distance was not size dependent where bedrock ribs were oblique to flow (Reach 3). At different intrareach scales, the variables characterizing the local bedrock topography and sediment architecture were the best predictors of transport distance in all three reaches. Therefore, bed load transport processes may be influenced by bed forms in bedrock streams (bedrock ribs) but at potentially smaller scales than bed forms in alluvial channels. The strong influence of bedrock ribs on coarse sediment transport suggested that coarse sediment transport processes are controlled by different factors in bedrock channels only when bedrock ribs cross the channel at a high angle to the flow.