Abstract

Effects of tributary junctions on longitudinal patterns of riverine heterogeneity are relevant to both fluvial geomorphology and riverine ecology. We surveyed 10 km of small- to moderate-sized mountain channels in the Olympic Peninsula, Washington, to investigate how low-order confluences prone to debris flow deposition directly and indirectly influenced channel and valley morphology. In the Olympic Mountains, debris flows scour sediment and organic material from steep first- and second-order channels and create deposits (debris fans) at tributary junctions in higher-order streams. In lower-energy depositional environments there were statistically significant relationships among debris fans at low-order confluences and gravel substrate, wide channels, and numbers of logs and large pools. Effects of debris fans on channel morphology extended upstream and downstream of fan perimeters, indicating the importance of indirect (offsite) effects of debris flows. Consequently, certain aspects of channel morphology (e.g., pool density, substrate texture, and channel widths) were nonuniformly distributed, reflecting the role of network topology and disturbance history on the spatial scale of morphological heterogeneity. Moreover, heterogeneity of channel morphology increased in proximity to low-order confluences prone to debris flows. In contrast, confluence effects in higher-energy depositional environments were limited. Our field data and information from seven other studies indicate how variation in debris flow volume and composition, stream energy, and valley width at the point of deposition influence the relationship between low-order confluences and channel morphology.

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