During its 6,300-km course from the Tibetan Plateau to the ocean, the Yangtze River is joined by two large lakes: Dongting Lake and Poyang Lake. We explain why these lakes exist. Deglaciation forced the ocean adjacent to the Yangtze mouth to rise ~120 m. This forced a wave of rising water surface elevation and concomitant bed aggradation upstream. While aggradation attenuated upstream, the low bed slope of the Middle-Lower Yangtze River (~2 × 10-5 near Wuhan) made it susceptible to sea level rise. The main stem, sourced at 5,054 m above sea level, had a substantial sediment load to "fight"against water surface level rise by means of bed aggradation. The tributaries of the Middle-Lower Yangtze have reliefs of approximately hundreds of meters, and did not have enough sediment supply to fill the tributary accommodation space created by main-stem aggradation. We show that the resulting tributary blockage likely gave rise to the lakes. We justify this using field data and numerical modeling, and derive a dimensionless number capturing the critical rate of water surface rise for blockage versus nonblockage.
|Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
|Published - Jul 26 2022
- Alluvial river
- sea level rise
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