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Avulsions, channel evolution and floodplain sedimentation rates of the anastomosing upper Columbia River, British Columbia, Canada

Authors

  • Bart Makaske,

    Corresponding author
    1. The Netherlands Centre for Geo-Ecological Research (ICG), Faculty of Geographical Sciences, Utrecht University, Heidelberglaan 2, PO Box 80115, 3508 TC Utrecht, The Netherlands
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  • Derald G. Smith,

    1. Department of Geography, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta T2N 1N4, Canada
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  • Henk J. A. Berendsen

    1. The Netherlands Centre for Geo-Ecological Research (ICG), Faculty of Geographical Sciences, Utrecht University, Heidelberglaan 2, PO Box 80115, 3508 TC Utrecht, The Netherlands
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1Present and correspondence address: Department of Landscape and Spatial Planning, Alterra, Wageningen University and Research Centre, PO Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, The Netherlands (E-mail: a.makaske@alterra.wag-ur.nl)

Abstract

Ages of channels of the anastomosing upper Columbia River, south-eastern British Columbia, Canada, were investigated in a cross-valley transect by 14C dating of subsurface floodplain organic material from beneath levees. The avulsion history within the transect was deduced from these data, and morphological stages in channel development were recognized. Additionally, floodplain sedimentation rates were established. The new data demonstrate that the upper Columbia River is a long-lived, dynamic anastomosing system. Results show that anastomosis at the study location has persisted since at least 2700 cal. years BP, with avulsions occurring frequently. At least nine channels have formed in the studied cross-valley transect within the past 3000 years. Channel lifetimes from formation to abandonment appear to be highly variable, ranging from approximately 800 to 3000 years. Log jams provoking avulsions and/or silting up of old channels are proposed as reasons for this variability. Long-term average floodplain sedimentation rates appear to be significantly lower than previously proposed by Smith (1983, Int. Assoc. Sedimentol. Spec. Publ., 6, 155–168). A long-term (4550 years) average of 1·75 mm year−1 (after compaction) was based on 14C dates, while a short-term sedimentation rate of 0·8 mm was determined for a single, relatively small, seasonal flood in 1994 using sediment traps. However, short-term sedimentation rates vary considerably over the floodplain, with levees aggrading up to four times faster than floodbasins. Channels of the upper Columbia River anastomosed reach follow a consistent pattern in their development, with each stage being characterized by different morphology and processes. Channel evolution comprises the following succession: (1) avulsion stage, in which a crevasse splay channel deepens by scour and levee sedimentation; (2) widening and deepening stage, in which bank slumping and bed scouring dominates; (3) infilling stage, in which either channel narrowing (bank accretion) or channel shallowing (bed accretion) takes place; and (4) abandonment stage, in which the residual (remnant) channel is filled exclusively by silt, clay and organic material. Vertical stacking (super- imposition) of active channels on recent channel-fill sand bodies is a notable feature of the upper Columbia River, which suggests that reoccupation of residual channels is a common process.

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