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Sediment dynamics across gravel-sand transitions: implications for river stability and floodplain recycling

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Elizabeth Dingle, Hugh Sinclair, Jeremy Venditti, Mikaël Attal, Tim C. Kinnaird, Maggie Creed, Laura Quick, Jeffrey Nittrouer, Dilip Gautam

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Abstract

The gravel-sand transition (GST) is commonly observed along rivers. It is characterized by an abrupt reduction in median grain size, from gravel- to sand-size sediment, and by a shift in sand transport mode from wash load–dominated to suspended bed material load. We documented changes in channel stability, suspended sediment concentration, flux, and grain size across the GST of the Karnali River, Nepal. Upstream of the GST, gravel-bed channels are stable over hundred- to thousand-year time scales. Downstream, floodplain sediment is reworked by lateral bank erosion, particularly during monsoon discharges. Suspended sediment concentration, grain size, and flux reveal counterintuitive increases downstream of the GST. The results demonstrate a dramatic change in channel dynamics across the GST, from relatively fixed, steep gravel-bed rivers with infrequent avulsion to lower-gradient, relatively mobile sand-bed channels. The increase in sediment concentration and near-bed suspended grain size may be caused by enhanced channel mobility, which facilitates exchange between bed and bank material. These results bring new constraints on channel stability at mountain fronts and indicate that temporally and spatially limited sediment flux measurements downstream of GSTs are more indicative of flow stage and floodplain recycling than of continental-scale sediment flux and denudation rate estimates.
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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)468-472
JournalGeology
Volume48
Issue number5
Early online date14 Feb 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020

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