Abstract

Identifying and quantifying the dominant processes of erosion and tracking the fate of sediment, wood, and carbon eroded during floods is important for understanding channel response to floods, downstream sediment and carbon loading, and the influence of extreme events on landscapes and the terrestrial carbon cycle. We quantify sediment, wood, and organic carbon (OC) from source to local sink following an extreme flood in the tectonically quiescent, semiarid Colorado (USA) Front Range. Erosion of >500,000 m3 or as much as ∼115 yr of weathering products occurred through landsliding and channel erosion during September 2013 flooding. More than half of the eroded sediment was deposited at the inlet and delta of a water supply reservoir, resulting in the equivalent of 100 yr of reservoir sedimentation and 2% loss in water storage capacity. The flood discharged 28 Mg C/km2, producing an event OC flux equivalent to humid, tectonically active areas. Post-flood remobilization resulted in a further ∼100 yr of reservoir sedimentation plus export of an additional 1.3 Mg C/km2 of wood, demonstrating the ongoing impact of the flood on reservoir capacity and carbon cycling. Pronounced channel widening during the flood created accommodation space for 40% of flood sediment and storage of wood and eroded carbon. We conclude that confined channels, normally dismissed as transport reaches, can store and export substantial amounts of flood constituents.

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