Abstract

A series of experiments were performed on bank materials of anastomosed channels in flood-plain silt deposits in the Alexandra Valley in Banff Park, Alberta, to determine the effect of vegetation roots on bank erodibility and lateral migration of channels. Underground roots from the dense growth of meadow grass and scrub willow provide the reinforcement of bank sediment and a riprap-like protection of channel banks from river erosion. Results from the experiments suggest that in cool environments with aggrading river conditions where overbank deposition of silt, clay, and fine sand dominate the valley fill, vegetation roots are able to rapidly accumulate and decay very slowly, thus affording protection to banks from erosion in deeper parts of the channels.

Experiments were performed with a specially designed erosion box, used as a means to simulate natural erosion conditions and measure the influence of vegetation roots in reducing bank erosion. Results indicate that the bank sediment with 16 to 18 percent by volume of roots with a 5-cm root-mat for bank protection, typical of the area, had 20,000 times more resistance to erosion than comparable bank sediment without vegetation. Assuming five severe erosion days per year, potential lateral channel migration would amount to 4.2 cm per year. Such resistance, due to vegetation, accounts for the remarkable stability of channels during the last 2,500 yr in the Alexandra Valley.

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