Linking the spatial distribution of bed load transport to morphological change during high-flow events in a shallow braided river

Richard Williams, Colin Rennie, James Brasington, D. Murray Hicks, Damià Vericat Querol

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This paper provides novel observations linking the connections between spatially distributed bed load transport pathways, hydraulic patterns, and morphological change in a shallow, gravel bed braided river. These observations shed light on the mechanics of braiding processes and illustrate the potential to quantify coupled material fluxes using remotely sensed methods. The paper focuses upon a 300 m long segment of the Rees River, New Zealand, and utilizes spatially dense observations from a mobile acoustic Doppler current profiler (aDcp) to map depth, velocity, and channel topography through a sequence of high-flow events. Apparent bed load velocity is estimated from the bias in aDcp bottom tracking and mapped to indicate bed load transport pathways. Terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) of exposed bar surfaces is fused with the aDcp surveys to generate spatially continuous digital elevation models, which quantify morphological change through the sequence of events. Results map spatially distributed bed load pathways that were likely to link zones of erosion and deposition. The coherence between the channel thalweg, zone of maximum hydraulic forcing, and maximum apparent bed load pathways varied. This suggests that, in places, local sediment supply sources exerted a strong control on the distribution of bed load, distinct from hydraulic forcing. The principal braiding mechanisms observed were channel choking, leading to subsequent bifurcation. Results show the connection between sediment sources, pathways, and sinks and their influence on channel morphology and flow path directions. The methodology of coupling spatially dense aDcp surveys with TLS has considerable potential to understand connections between processes and morphological change in dynamic fluvial settings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)604-622
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface
Issue number3
Early online date23 Feb 2015
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2015


  • aDcp
  • apparent bed load velocity
  • braided river
  • fluvial morphodynamics
  • terrestrial laser scanning
  • uncertainty


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