Controls on the hydraulic geometry of alluvial channels: bank stability to gravitational failure, the critical-flow hypothesis, and conservation of mass and energy

Pelletier, Jon D.

The bank-full depths, widths, depth-averaged water velocities, and along-channel slopes of alluvial channels are approximately power-law functions of bank-full discharge across many orders of magnitude. What mechanisms give rise to these patterns is one of the central questions of fluvial geomorphology. Here it is proposed that the bank-full depths of alluvial channels are partially controlled by the maximum heights of gravitationally stable channel banks, which depend on bank material cohesion and hence on clay content. The bank-full depths predicted by a bank-stability model correlate with observed bank-full depths estimated from the bends in the stage–discharge rating curves of 387 U.S. Geological Survey gaging stations in the Mississippi River basin. It is further proposed that depth-averaged water velocities scale with bank-full depths as a result of a self-regulatory feedback among water flow, relative roughness, and channel-bed morphology that limits depth-averaged water velocities to within a relatively narrow range associated with Froude numbers that have a weak inverse relationship to bank-full discharge. Given these constraints on channel depths and water velocities, bank-full widths and along-channel slopes consistent with observations follow by conservation of mass and energy of water flow.

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Pelletier, Jon D.: Controls on the hydraulic geometry of alluvial channels: bank stability to gravitational failure, the critical-flow hypothesis, and conservation of mass and energy. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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