Date of Award:

2015

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Watershed Sciences

Advisor/Chair:

Joseph M. Wheaton

Abstract

Braided channels arise due to high sediment availability in conjunction with regular competent flows and readily erodible banks. Together, these boundary conditions lead to the deposition and reworking of a network of transient bars that characterize the braided planform. However, quantifying the geomorphic response of braided systems to alterations in these boundary conditions is not straightforward, as channels adjust over a wide range of timescales, rendering traditional field-based observation intractable. As such, the development of simple yet robust relationships between channel morphology and sediment transport has the potential to allow predictions of channel response to altered hydrologic or sediment regimes. In this research, I first use laboratory flume experiments to relate particle travel distance during floods (termed particle path length) and the spacing of channel bars in braided rivers (Chapter 2), finding that deposition sites for sediment in transport can be readily predicted by the characteristic confluence-diffluence spacing in a reach. I then use the relationship between path length and channel morphology to build a simple, open-source morphodynamic model for braided rivers that computes sediment transport using path-length distributions derived from bar spacing (Chapter 3). I explore the validity of this model, specifically noting that its modular framework allows exploration of process representations in morphodynamic modeling in ways existing models do not. Finally, I employ the model to determine the role of sediment supply in braided channel bar morphodynamics (Chapter 4). Specifically, I address the relative roles of sediment sourced from upstream versus sediment sourced from within a braided reach in terms of channel morphodynamics at decadal timescales. This research demonstrates that simple scaling relationships, while necessarily imperfect, nevertheless provide insight into morphodynamic processes in braided rivers, while also allowing predictions of channel response to sediment or hydrologic forcing at the timescales of channel adjustment.

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