Beavers (Castor fiber, Castor canadensis) are one of the most influential mammalian ecosystem engineers, heavily modifying river corridor hydrology, geomorphology, nutrient cycling, and ecosystems. As an agent of disturbance, they achieve this first and foremost through dam construction, which impounds flow and increases the extent of open water, and from which all other landscape and ecosystem impacts follow. After a long period of local and regional eradication, beaver populations have been recovering and expanding throughout Europe and North America, as well as an introduced species in South America, prompting a need to comprehensively review the current state of knowledge on how beavers influence the structure and function of river corridors. Here, we synthesize the overall impacts on hydrology, geomorphology, biogeochemistry, and aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Our key findings are that a complex of beaver dams can increase surface and subsurface water storage, modify the reach scale partitioning of water budgets, allow site specific flood attenuation, alter low flow hydrology, increase evaporation, increase water and nutrient residence times, increase geomorphic heterogeneity, delay sediment transport, increase carbon, nutrient and sediment storage, expand the extent of anaerobic conditions and interfaces, increase the downstream export of dissolved organic carbon and ammonium, decrease the downstream export of nitrate, increase lotic to lentic habitat transitions and aquatic primary production, induce ‘reverse’ succession in riparian vegetation assemblages, and increase habitat complexity and biodiversity on reach scales. We then examine the key feedbacks and overlaps between these changes caused by beavers, where the decrease in longitudinal hydrologic connectivity create ponds and wetlands, transitions between lentic to lotic ecosystems, increase vertical hydraulic exchange gradients, and biogeochemical cycling per unit stream length, while increased lateral connectivity will determine the extent of open water area and wetland and littoral zone habitats, and induce changes in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystem assemblages. However, the extent of these impacts depends firstly on the hydro-geomorphic landscape context, which determines the extent of floodplain inundation, a key driver of subsequent changes to hydrologic, geomorphic, biogeochemical, and ecosystem dynamics. Secondly, it depends on the length of time beavers can sustain disturbance at a given site, which is constrained by top down (e.g. predation) and bottom up (e.g. competition) feedbacks, and ultimately determines the pathways of river corridor landscape and ecosystem succession following beaver abandonment. This outsized influence of beavers on river corridor processes and feedbacks is also fundamentally distinct from what occurs in their absence. Current river management and restoration practices are therefore open to re-examination in order to account for the impacts of beavers, both positive and negative, such that they can potentially accommodate and enhance the ecosystem engineering services they provide. It is hoped that our synthesis and holistic framework for evaluating beaver impacts can be used in this endeavor by river scientists and managers into the future as beaver populations continue to expand in both numbers and range. A copy is available here.
Primary production is a fundamental ecosystem process that influences nutrient and carbon cycling, and trophic structure in streams. The magnitude and timing of gross primary production (GPP) are typically controlled by hydrology, light, nutrient availability and grazers. Estimates of GPP and its drivers in high-mountain streams remain elusive at present. We estimated GPP in streams typical for high-mountain catchments, namely a glacier-fed, groundwater-fed (krenal) and a snowmelt-fed (nival) stream. Using high-resolution sensor data over 2 years in combination with numerical simulations of stream hydraulics, we studied the periods of GPP characteristic for these streams, as well as their major drivers. Favourable windows for GPP were constrained to periods at the onset of the snowmelt and its recession, when photosynthetic active radiation at the streambed and streambed stability facilitated GPP. During these windows of opportunity, GPP was higher in the nival stream (3.7 ± 3.4 g O2 m−2 day−1), followed by the glacier-fed (1.5 ± 1.6 g O2 m−2 day−1) and the krenal streams (0.6 ± 0.6 g O2 m−2 day−1). GPP was largely controlled by photosynthetic active radiation at the stream bottom, however, we were not able to establish an unequivocal relationship between flow-induced bed movement and GPP. Our results highlight the capacity of primary producers to exploit the discrete and relatively predictable windows of opportunities in high-mountain streams. We propose that climate-driven change in snow and glacier melt reduction may ameliorate stream environmental conditions, thereby enhancing the potential autochthonous organic matter supply within the catchment. A copy of the paper is available here.
The temporal variability in sediment export yield from glaciers over a timescale of multiple glacial cycles (e.g. 1 × 102 − 1 × 106 years) is of interest for a wide range of applications in glaciology, sedimentology, geomorphology, climatology and environmental engineering. However, the time required for the products of glacial erosion to be transferred through glaciated catchments and the extent to which glacially-conditioned sediment can be transiently stored within them are still poorly constrained and a matter of debate within the community. We propose a conceptual model of the variability in sediment exported from glaciers over multiple glacial cycles based on a literature review. Sediment yield is likely to be highly variable through a glacial cycle, notably between phases of glacier advance, retreat and re-advance due to changes in ice velocity and erosion rates, ice and meltwater transport capacity, and in glacially-conditioned sediment accessibility at the bed. Typically, early phases of glacier retreat and re-advance are expected to lead to the highest increase in sediment yield due to the ease with which the products of bedrock erosion can be accessed and reworked. In contrast, later phases of glacial (re)advance, once glacially-conditioned sedimentary sources become exhausted, may be characterized by intermediate rates of sediment export yield maintained through bedrock erosion. The latest phases of deglaciation, once glacially-conditioned sedimentary sources are either exhausted, stabilized or disconnected from active processes of sediment transfer, are likely to have the lowest rate of export. The conceptual model proposed in this paper fills a gap in the literature by developing a continuous pattern of sediment yield rate variability over the course of multiple glacial cycles, with wider implications for future research. However, its systematic applicability to various glacier settings and glaciations needs more field and modeling data to validate it.
The paper is published in the journal Progress in Physical Geography and a copy of this paper is freely available here.
Whilst time‐series of sediment transport in gullies in both laboratory experimental and field settings can be determined through instrumentation, quantifying the spatial distribution of transport rates remains challenging. The morphological method, which was proposed for estimating bed‐material transport in both one‐ and two‐dimensions in rivers, provides an alternative. Here, we developed this method for gully systems. A laboratory catchment was used to simulate gully erosion. High‐resolution topographical data were acquired by close‐range digital photogrammetry. Morphological changes were determined using high‐resolution topographic data and an associated level of detection. Based on measured morphological changes, one‐dimensional (1D) and two‐dimensional (2D) sediment transport rates were calculated via cross‐section by cross‐section routing (1D) and cell by cell routing (2D). The 1D application provided a general trend of longitudinal variation of sediment transport for the whole gully system, increased gradually from zones of headward extension to a zone downstream where erosion and deposition were in balance, and sediment transport rates less variable in space. For the 2D application, hydrological and blended hydrological‐hydraulic routing solutions were compared. We found that the level of negative transport was insensitive to whether or not a blended hydrological‐hydraulic routing was used and that results from applying the hydrological routing throughout were not significantly degraded. We also found that consideration should be given to spatial and temporal resolution of the topographic data. The 2D application provided spatial patterns of sediment transport that vary with gully evolution. The main gully remained a high transport corridor but branch transport became more important through time. The framework we report provides an additional tool for both experimental and field quantification of the spatial patterns of sediment transport in gullies; and quantification of how these patterns change under different forcing factors.
A copy of the paper is available here.
Naz Islam has just published a paper that considers Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs), a recurring hazard in the Himalayas, posing significant threat to downstream communities, in the North Sikkim district of India. This district comprising the upper reaches of the Teesta River in the Eastern Himalayas, and has experienced past GLOF events. The identification of lakes susceptible to this phenomenon is therefore paramount. Using multi-temporal satellite images, this study tracks lake growth in the region, revealing that 203 new lakes had developed herein during the observation period (2000–2018). Of these, 82 lakes had formed during 2011–2018 alone; indicating marked glacial retreat and consequent lake area growth, alongside a rising temperature trend. Using various weighted geometric and geomorphic parameters, the 36 most hazardous lakes were identified, from which the 10 lakes posing the greatest GLOF threat were discerned. These lakes are mostly situated along the main snowline and Great Himalayan water-divide in the north-eastern part of Sikkim and should be monitored continuously. A link to the paper is available here.
Climate change impacts on sediment production and transfer processes on hillslopes and through channels are governed by possible changes in precipitation, runoff, and air temperature. These hydrological and geomorphological impacts are difficult to predict in temperature‐sensitive Alpine environments. In this study, we combined a stochastic weather generator model with the most current climate change projections to feed a hillslope‐channel sediment cascade model for a major debris‐flow system in the Swiss Alps (the Illgraben). This allowed us to quantify climate change impacts and their uncertainties on sediment yield and the number of debris flows at hourly temporal resolution. We show that projected changes in precipitation and air temperature lead to a reduction in both sediment yield (−48%) and debris‐flow occurrence (−23%). This change is caused by a decrease in sediment supply from hillslopes, which is driven by frost‐weathering. Additionally, we conduct model experiments that show the sensitivity of projected changes in sediment yield and debris‐flow hazard to basin elevation, with important implications for assessing natural hazards and risks in mountain environments. Future changes in hydrological and sediment fluxes are characterized by high uncertainty, mainly due to irreducible internal climate variability. Therefore, this stochastic uncertainty needs to be considered in climate change impact assessments for geomorphic systems. The paper cab be accessed here.
High-resolution time series of dissolved oxygen (DO) have revealed different ecosystem energetics regimes across various stream types. Ecosystem energetic regimes are relevant to better understand the transformation and retention of nutrients and carbon in stream ecosystems. However, the patterns and controls of stream energetics in high-mountain landscapes remain largely unknown. Here we monitored percent DO saturation (every 10 min) over 2 years in a glacier-fed, krenal (groundwater-fed) and a nival (snowmelt-fed) stream as they are typical for the high mountains. We used daily Shannon entropy to explore the temporal dynamics of stream water DO and to infer information on the ecosystem energetics and on the potential drivers. We found that discharge modulated the drivers of DO variations at daily and seasonal scales. Elevated bed movement along with high turbidity and very high gas exchange rates drove the daily DO patterns in the glacier-fed stream during snow and ice melt, whereas light seemed to drive DO dynamics in the krenal and nival streams. We found a window of favorable conditions for potential gross primary production (GPP) during the onset of the snowmelt in the glacier-fed stream, whereas potential GPP seemed to extend over longer periods in the krenal and nival streams. Our findings suggest how the energetic regimes of these high-mountain streams may change in the future as their biological and physical drivers change owing to climate warming. A copy can be obtained here.
Setting environmental flows downstream of hydropower dams is widely recognized as important, particularly in Alpine regions. However, the required flows are strongly influenced by the effects of the physical environment of the downstream river. Here, we show how unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)-based structure-from-motion multiview stereo (SfM-MVS) photogrammetry allows for incorporation of such effects through determination of spatially distributed patterns of key physical parameters (e.g., bed shear stress, bed grain size) and how they condition available stream habitat. This is illustrated for a dam-impacted Alpine stream, testing whether modification of the dam’s annual flushing flow could achieve the desired downstream environmental improvement. In detail, we found that (1) flood peaks in the pilot study were larger than needed, (2) only a single flood peak was necessary, (3) sediment coarsening was likely being impacted by supply from nonregulated tributaries, often overlooked, and (4) a lower-magnitude but longer-duration rinsing flow after flushing is valuable for the system. These findings were enabled by the spatially rich geospatial datasets produced by UAV-based SfM-MVS photogrammetry. Both modeling of river erosion and deposition and river habitat may be revolutionized by these developments in remote sensing. However, it is combination with more traditional and temporarily rich monitoring that allows their full potential to be realized. A copy of the paper is available here.
Resulting from a collaboration with Perm State University, this paper investigates river mixing. A rapid downstream weakening of the processes that drive the intensity of transverse mixing at the confluence of large rivers has been identified in the literature and attributed to the progressive reduction in channel scale secondary circulation and shear-driven mixing with distance downstream from the junction. These processes are investigated in this paper using a three-dimensional computation of the Reynolds averaged Navier Stokes equations combined with a Reynolds stress turbulence model for the confluence of the Kama and Vishera rivers in the Russian Urals. Simulations were carried out for three different configurations: an idealized planform with a rectangular cross-section (R), the natural planform with a rectangular cross-section (P), and the natural planform with the measured bathymetry (N), each one for three different discharge ratios. Results show that in the idealized configuration (R), the initial vortices that form due to channel-scale pressure gradients decline rapidly with distance downstream. Mixing is slow and incomplete at more than 10 multiples of channel width downstream from the junction corner. However, when the natural planform and bathymetry are introduced (N), rates of mixing increase dramatically at the junction corner and are maintained with distance downstream. Comparison with the P case suggests that it is the bathymetry that drives the most rapid mixing and notably when the discharge ratio is such that a single channel-scale vortex develops aided by curvature in the post junction channel. This effect is strongest when the discharge of the tributary that has the same direction of curvature as the post junction channel is greatest. A comprehensive set of field data are required to test this conclusion. If it holds, theoretical models of mixing processes in rivers will need to take into account the effects of bathymetry upon the interaction between river discharge ratio, secondary circulation development, and mixing rates. An Open Access copy of the paper is available here.
Mancini, D. and Lane, S.N., 2020. Changes in sediment connectivity following glacial debuttressing in an Alpine valley system. Geomorphology, 352, UNSP 106987
Increasing air temperature and declining winter snowfalls are resulting in rapid glacier recession and the expansion of proglacial margins in Alpine regions. Such margins include substantial debris accumulations (e.g. frontal/lateral moraine ridges; till-covered and steep valley sidewalls) which may be unstable due to glacial debuttressing. Rainfall, snowmelt and ice melt out may then cause mass movements. Here, we quantify the decadal-scale erosion and deposition patterns and changes in connectivity for two valley sidewall geomorphological systems following retreat of the Glacier d’Otemma, Switzerland. We apply archival digital photogrammetric methods to the period 1964 to 2009 to determine high resolution digital elevation models. These were differenced to calculate patterns of erosion and deposition and to quantify the evolution of sediment connectivity. We found that gully headward erosion (rates between ca. −10.6 mm/year and −1002.1 mm/year) was the main geomorphological process during glacier thinning but increasing depositional rates downslope of the gullies (ca. +21.3 to +298.5 mm/year) were recorded in the following years associated with significant alluvial fan growth at the slope base. While gullying enhanced connectivity by removing glacially conditioned sediment transfer buffers, so connecting side-slopes to upstream sediment sinks (the upslope contributing area between 1964 and 2009 increased by +73.8% and +195.1% in each subsystem), alluvial fans reduced the rates of sediment transfer to the rapidly enlarging glacial forefields. The detail of these responses is conditioned by three generic processes: (1) the wider geomorphic setting – here, the presence of a moraine bastion as a primary part of the sediment cascade strongly influenced gully morphology evolution and the likely length of the paraglacial period length; (2) the thickness of sediment left by the retreating glacier which controlled the influence of bedrock topographic buffers on connectivity; and (3) the extent to which diffusive drainage systems develop in response to the deposition at the hillslope base, which tend to disconnect sediment flux. Post-glacially, gully development has a self-limiting effect on sediment connectivity in that while gullying increases sediment connectivity, the eroded sediment leads to deposition on the alluvial plain that reduces sediment connectivity. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like a copy.