Spatial Variability in Bankfull Stage and Bank Elevations of Lowland Meandering Rivers: Relation to Rating Curves and Channel Planform Characteristics

Evan M. Lindroth, Bruce L. Rhoads, Cesar R. Castillo, Jonathan A. Czuba, İnci Güneralp, Doug Edmonds

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Mutual adjustment between process and form shapes the morphology of alluvial river channels, including channel banks. The tops of banks define the transition between the channel and adjacent floodplain, which corresponds to the level of incipient flooding. Despite the geomorphological and hydrological importance of this transition, few, if any, studies have extensively examined spatial variability in bank elevations and its influence on bankfull stage. This study uses an objective method to explore this variability at two spatial resolutions along three alluvial lowland meandering rivers. Results show that variability in bankfull stage is inherent to all three rivers. The mean variability of bankfull stage about the average downstream gradient in this stage is 10% to 20% of mean bankfull depth. Elevations of channel banks exhibit similar variability, even after accounting for systematic variations in heights of inner and outer banks associated with river meandering. Two-dimensional hydraulic simulations show that the elevation range of mean variability in bankfull stage overlaps considerably with the elevation range of high curvature on rating curves, confirming that variability in bankfull stage influences the shape of these curves. The simulations verify that breaks in channel banks allow flow to extend onto the floodplain at stages below the average bankfull stage. The findings provide fundamental insight into the variable nature of bankfull conditions along meandering rivers and the role of this variability in channel-floodplain connectivity. The results also inform river-restoration efforts that seek to re-establish the natural configuration of channel banks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020WR027477
JournalWater Resources Research
Volume56
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020

Keywords

  • bankfull stage
  • rating curve
  • river-floodplain connectivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology

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