Abstract

A fundamental yet unresolved question in fluvial geomorphology is what controls the width of valleys in mountainous terrain. Establishing a predictive relation for valley floor width is critical for realizing links between aquatic ecology and geomorphology because the most productive riverine habitats often occur in low-gradient streams with broad floodplains. Working in the Oregon Coast Range (western United States), we used airborne lidar to explore controls on valley width, and couple these findings with models of salmon habitat potential. We defined how valley floor width varies with drainage area in a catchment that exhibits relatively uniform ridge-and-valley topography sculpted by shallow landslides and debris flows. In drainage areas >0.1 km2, valley width increases as a power law function of drainage area with an exponent of ∼0.6. Consequently, valley width increases more rapidly downstream than channel width (exponent of ∼0.4), as derived by local hydraulic geometry. We used this baseline valley width–drainage area function to determine how ancient deep-seated landslides in a nearby catchment influence valley width. Anomalously wide valleys tend to occur upstream of, and adjacent to, large landslides, while downstream valley segments are narrower than predicted from our baseline relation. According to coho salmon habitat-potential models, broad valley segments associated with deep-seated landsliding resulted in a greater proportion of the channel network hosting productive habitat. Because large landslides in this area are structurally controlled, our findings indicate a strong link between geologic properties and aquatic habitat.

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