Channel dynamics and habitat development in a meandering, gravel bed river



[1] We investigated how channel morphology, flow complexity, and habitat characteristics in a meandering gravel bed river evolved over time from a simple, reconfigured initial condition. Using a time series of topographic data, we measured rates of channel migration and morphologic change, documented patterns of sediment storage, and estimated rates of sediment supply. We constructed, calibrated, and validated hydrodynamic models to quantify how the evolving morphology influenced hydraulic conditions, flow complexity, and habitat suitability for Chinook salmon spawning and rearing. For a series of meander bends with constant curvature, similar bank materials, and an identical flow history, sediment supply and bar storage directly influenced channel migration rates. Habitat modeling indicated that the availability of Chinook salmon spawning habitat increased over time, whereas the majority of the reach continues to provide only low- to medium-quality rearing habitat for juvenile salmonids, primarily because of a lack of low-velocity refuge zones. However, other metrics of flow complexity indicate that areas of favorable flow conditions gradually expanded as point bars developed along the inner bank of each bend. These results indicate that although sediment supply can stimulate channel change and diversify river morphology, which acts to promote flow complexity and provide spawning habitat, these sediment-driven morphological changes might not create bioenergetically favorable habitat for juvenile salmonids.