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Extreme river response to climate-induced aggradation in a forested, montaine basin, Carbon River, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, United States

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Author(s): Jonathan D. Beyeler, Rebecca K. Rossi, Paul M. Kennard, Scott R. Beason

Document Type: Abstract EP51C-06
Publisher: American Geophysical Union
Published Year: 2013
DOI Identifier:
ISBN Identifier:

Climate change is drastically affecting the alpine landscape of Mount Rainier, encouraging glacial retreat, changes in snowpack thickness and longevity, and sediment delivery to downstream fluvial systems, leading to an extremely transport limited system and aggradation of the river valleys. River aggradation encourages devastating interactions between the pro-glacial braided fluvial systems and streamside floodplain ecosystems, in most places occupied by old-growth conifer forests. Current aggradation rates of the channels, bordered by late seral stage riparian forests, inhibit floodplain development, leading to an inverted relationship between perched river channels and lower-elevation adjacent floodplains. This disequilibrium creates a steeper gradient laterally towards the floodplains, rather than downstream; promoting flooding of streamside forest, removal and burial of vegetation with coarse alluvium, incision of avulsion channels, tree mortality, wood recruitment to channels, and ultimately widening the alluviated valley towards the glacially carved hillslopes. Aggradation and loss of streamside old-growth forest poses a significant problem to park infrastructure (e.g. roads, trails, and campgrounds) due to flood damage with as frequent as a two-year event. Other park rivers, the White River and Tahoma Creek, characterize two endmember cases. Despite an extremely perched channel, the White River is relatively stable; experiencing small avulsions while the old-growth streamside forest has remained mostly intact. These relatively small avulsions however severely impact park infrastructure, causing extensive flood damage and closure of the heavily trafficked state highway. Conversely debris flows on Tahoma Creek destroyed the streamside forest and migration across the valley is uninhibited. Mature streamside forests tend to oppose avulsions, sieving wood at the channel margins, promoting sediment deposition and deflection of erosive flows. Our study seeks to understand the Carbon River avulsion vulnerability, relative to White River and Tahoma Creek, and whether recent avulsions are a harbinger of a threshold loss of riparian forest leading to unfettered future river channel shifting. To this end, we are analyzing historic aerial imagery, multiple LiDAR datasets, and the flood record as well as field mapping channels to identify historically active, inactive, and abandoned avulsions through time and in relation to susceptibility of forest mortality and infrastructure destruction by mainstem avulsions of the Carbon River and widening of the river valley. Our work contributes to the understanding of river avulsions and landscape response to climate change via channel migration due to interactions between sediment aggradation, flood events, and interactions with streamside forests.

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In Text Citation:
Beyeler and others (2013) or (Beyeler et al., 2013)

References Citation:
Beyeler, J.D., R.K. Rossi, P.M. Kennard, and S.R. Beason, 2013, Extreme river response to climate-induced aggradation in a forested, montaine basin, Carbon River, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, United States: Abstract EP51C-06, American Geophysical Union,