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Keywords:

  • Basin hydrology;
  • critical shear stress;
  • particle entrainment;
  • return period floods;
  • sediment transport;
  • Swiss Alps

Abstract

Modern mixed alluvial-bedrock channels in mountainous areas provide natural laboratories for understanding the time scales at which coarse-grained material has been entrained and transported from their sources to the adjacent sedimentary sink, where these deposits are preserved as conglomerates. This article assesses the shear stress conditions needed for the entrainment of the coarse-bed particles in the Glogn River that drains the 400 km2 Val Lumnezia basin, eastern Swiss Alps. In addition, quantitative data are presented on sediment transport patterns in this stream. The longitudinal stream profile of this river is characterized by three ca 500 m long knickzones where channel gradients range from 0·02 to 0·2 m m−1, and where the valley bottom confined into a <10 m wide gorge. Downstream of these knickzones, the stream is flat with gradients <0·01 m m−1 and widths ≥30 m. Measurements of the grain-size distribution along the trunk stream yield a mean D84 value of ca 270 mm, whereas the mean D50 is ca 100 mm. The consequences of the channel morphology and the grain-size distribution for the time scales of sediment transport were explored by using a one-dimensional step-backwater hydraulic model (Hydrologic Engineering Centre – River Analysis System). The results reveal that, along the entire trunk stream, a two to 10 year return period flood event is capable of mobilizing both the D50 and D84 fractions where the Shields stress exceeds the critical Shields stress for the initiation of particle motion. These return periods, however, varied substantially depending on the channel geometry and the pebble/boulder size distribution of the supplied material. Accordingly, the stream exhibits a highly dynamic boulder cover behaviour. It is likely that these time scales might also have been at work when coarse-grained conglomerates were constructed in the geological past.