Long-profile evolution of transport-limited gravel-bed rivers

Andrew D. Wickert, Taylor F. Schildgen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Alluvial and transport-limited bedrock rivers constitute the majority of fluvial systems on Earth. Their long profiles hold clues to their present state and past evolution. We currently possess first-principles-based governing equations for flow, sediment transport, and channel morphodynamics in these systems, which we lack for detachment-limited bedrock rivers. Here we formally couple these equations for transport-limited gravel-bed river long-profile evolution. The result is a new predictive relationship whose functional form and parameters are grounded in theory and defined through experimental data. From this, we produce a power-law analytical solution and a finite-difference numerical solution to long-profile evolution. Steady-state channel concavity and steepness are diagnostic of external drivers: concavity decreases with increasing uplift rate, and steepness increases with an increasing sediment-to-water supply ratio. Constraining free parameters explains common observations of river form: to match observed channel concavities, gravel-sized sediments must weather and fine - typically rapidly - and valleys typically should widen gradually. To match the empirical square-root width-discharge scaling in equilibrium-width gravel-bed rivers, downstream fining must occur. The ability to assign a cause to such observations is the direct result of a deductive approach to developing equations for landscape evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-43
Number of pages27
JournalEarth Surface Dynamics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed underthe Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


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