Bed load transport in bedrock rivers: The role of sediment cover in grain entrainment, translation, and deposition



[1] Bedrock rivers exert a critical control over landscape evolution, yet little is known about the sediment transport processes that affect their incision. We present theoretical analyses and field data that demonstrate how grain entrainment, translation and deposition are affected by the degree of sediment cover in a bedrock channel. Theoretical considerations of grain entrainment mechanics and sediment continuity each demonstrate that areas of exposed bedrock and thin sediment depths cause sediment transport to be size-independent, albeit excluding extreme grain sizes. We report gravel and cobble magnetic tracer data from three rivers with contrasting sediment cover: the bedrock River Calder (20% cover), the bedrock South Fork Eel River (80%) and the alluvial Allt Dubhaig (100%). These data sets show that: 1) transport distances in the River Calder are controlled by sediment patch location, whereas in the other rivers transport distances are described by gamma distributions representing local dispersion; 2) River Calder transport distances are size-independent across all recorded shear stresses, whereas the other rivers display size-selectivity; 3) River Calder tracers are entrained at a dimensionless shear stress of 0.038, which is relatively low compared to alluvial rivers; and, 4) virtual grain velocities in the River Calder are higher than in a comparable reach of the Allt Dubhaig. These contrasts result from differences in the thicknesses and spatial distribution of sediment in the three rivers, and support the theoretical analysis. Sediment processes in bedrock rivers systematically vary along a continuum between bedrock and alluvial end-members.