The mass distribution of coarse particulate organic matter exported from an Alpine headwater stream
Coarse particulate organic matter (CPOM) particles span sizes from 1 mm, with a dry mass less than 1 mg, to large logs and entire trees, which can have a dry mass of several hundred kilograms. Pieces of different size and mass play different roles in stream environments, from being the prime source of energy in stream ecosystems to macroscopically determining channel morphology and local hydraulics. We show that a single scaling exponent can describe the mass distribution of CPOM heavier than 0.1 g transported in the Erlenbach, a steep mountain stream in the Swiss pre-Alps. This exponent takes an average value of −1.8, is independent of discharge and valid for particle masses spanning almost seven orders of magnitude. Similarly, the mass distribution of in-stream large woody debris (LWD) in several Swiss streams can be described by power law scaling distributions, with exponents varying between −1.8 and −2.0, if all in-stream LWD is considered, and between −1.3 and −1.8 for material locked in log jams. We found similar values for in-stream and transported material in the literature. We had expected that scaling exponents are determined by stream type, vegetation, climate, substrate properties, and the connectivity between channels and hillslopes. However, none of the descriptor variables tested here, including drainage area, channel bed slope and the percentage of forested area, show a strong control on exponent value. Together with a rating curve of CPOM transport rates with discharge, the scaling exponents can be used in the design of measuring strategies and in natural hazard mitigation.