Permanent gullies grow through head cut propagation in response to overland flow coupled with incision and widening in the channel bottom leading to hillslope failures. Altered hydrology can impact the rate at which permanent gullies grow by changing head cut propagation, channel incision, and channel widening rates. Using a set of small physical experiments, we tested how changing overland flow rates and flow volumes alter the total volume of erosion and resulting gully morphology. Permanent gullies were modeled as both detachment-limited and transport-limited systems, using two different substrates with varying cohesion. In both cases, the erosion rate varied linearly with water discharge, such that the volume of sediment eroded was a function not of flow rate, but of total water volume. This implies that efforts to reduce peak flow rates alone without addressing flow volumes entering gully systems may not reduce erosion. The documented response in these experiments is not typical when compared to larger preexisting channels where higher flow rates result in greater erosion through nonlinear relationships between water discharge and sediment discharge. Permanent gullies do not respond like preexisting channels because channel slope remains a free parameter and can adjust relatively quickly in response to changing flows.
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Acknowledgements. This work was funded in part by a Geological Society of America Graduate student research grant and by the National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics (NCED), which is funded by the Office of Integrative Activities, National Science Foundation grant EAR-0120914. We appreciate comments and reviews from Robert Wells and two anonymous reviewers.
© 2018 Author(s).