Riparian vegetation controls on braided stream dynamics

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270 Scopus citations


Riparian vegetation can significantly influence the morphology of a river, affecting channel geometry and flow dynamics. To examine the effects of riparian vegetation on gravel bed braided streams, we conducted a series of physical experiments at the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory with varying densities of bar and bank vegetation. Water discharge, sediment discharge, and grain size were held constant between runs. For each run, we allowed a braided system to develop, then seeded the flume with alfalfa (Medicago sativa), allowed the seeds to grow, and then continued the run. We collected data on water depth, surface velocity, and bed elevation throughout each run using image-based techniques designed to collect data over a large spatial area with minimal disturbance to the flow. Our results show that the influence of vegetation on overall river patterns varied systematically with the spatial density of plant stems. Vegetation reduced the number of active channels and increased bank stability, leading to lower lateral migration rates, narrower and deeper channels, and increased channel relief. These effects increased with vegetation density. Vegetation influenced flow dynamics, increasing the variance of flow direction in vegetated runs and increasing scour depths through strong downwelling where the flow collided with relatively resistant banks. This oblique bank collision also provides a new mechanism for producing secondary flows. We found it to be more important than the classical curvature-driven mechanism in vegetated runs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3275-3283
Number of pages9
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2001


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