Lithologic and Hydrologic Controls of Mixed Alluvial-Bedrock Channels in Flood-Prone Fluvial Systems: Bankfull and Macrochannels in the Llano River Watershed, Central Texas, USA
Geography and Geology
The rural and unregulated Llano River watershed located in central Texas, USA, has a highly variable flow regime and a wide range of instantaneous peak flows. Abrupt transitions in surface lithology exist along the main-stem channel course. Both of these characteristics afford an opportunity to examine hydrologic, lithologic, and sedimentary controls on downstream changes in channel morphology. Field surveys of channel topography and boundary composition are coupled with sediment analyses, hydraulic computations, flood-frequency analyses, and geographic information system mapping to discern controls on channel geometry (profile, pattern, and shape) and dimensions along the mixed alluvial–bedrock Llano River and key tributaries. Four categories of channel classification in a downstream direction include: (i) uppermost ephemeral reaches, (ii) straight or sinuous gravel-bed channels in Cretaceous carbonate sedimentary zones, (iii) straight or sinuous gravel-bed or bedrock channels in Paleozoic sedimentary zones, and (iv) straight, braided, or multithread mixed alluvial–bedrock channels with sandy beds in Precambrian igneous and metamorphic zones. Principal findings include: (i) a nearly linear channel profile attributed to resistant bedrock incision checkpoints; (ii) statistically significant correlations of both alluvial sinuosity and valley confinement to relatively high f (mean depth) hydraulic geometry values; (iii) relatively high b (width) hydraulic geometry values in partly confined settings with sinuous channels upstream from a prominent incision checkpoint; (iv) different functional flow categories including frequently occurring events (< 1.5-year return periods) that mobilize channel-bed material and less frequent events that determine bankfull channel (1.5- to 3-year return periods) and macrochannel (10- to 40-year return periods) dimensions; (v) macrochannels with high f values (mostly ≥ 0.45) that develop at sites with unit stream power values in excess of 200 watts per square meter (W/m2); and (vi) downstream convergence of hydraulic geometry exponents for bankfull and macrochannels, explained by co-increases of flood magnitude and noncohesive sandy sediments that collectively minimize development of alluvial bankfull indicators. Collectively, these findings indicate that mixed alluvial–bedrock channels exhibit first-order lithologic controls (lithologic resistance and valley confinement) of channel geometry, second-order hydrologic (flow regime) control of channel dimensions, and third-order sedimentary controls that exert subsidiary influence on channel shape and bed configuration.
Heitmuller, F. T.,
Hudson, P. F.,
Asquith, W. H.
(2015). Lithologic and Hydrologic Controls of Mixed Alluvial-Bedrock Channels in Flood-Prone Fluvial Systems: Bankfull and Macrochannels in the Llano River Watershed, Central Texas, USA. Geomorphology, 232, 1-19.
Available at: https://aquila.usm.edu/fac_pubs/15615