Beyond stationarity: influence of flow history and sediment supply on coarse bedload transport

P. W. Downs, P. J. Soar

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Understanding how river bedload responds to climate and land use changes and water resource management initiatives is critical in developing sustainable approaches to river management. Passive monitoring techniques permit investigation of interannual dependencies in bedload transport in high resolution, including sediment supply factors. Here, seismic impact plate records are processed using a probabilistic model BedLoad from Impact Plates model to derive a 5‐year bedload data set at 5‐min intervals for the lower River Avon, Devon, UK. For water years that range from very dry to very wet, annual coarse bedload yields are estimated to vary through two orders of magnitude with wide prediction intervals. The most effective discharge occurs consistently at about one‐third of bankfull flow, morphologically at “subbarfull” stage, the result of hysteretic trends and falling limb transport in this non‐threshold channel. A two‐phase sediment rating curve is revealed with a variable supply related “bulge” during in‐bank flows, giving way to a near‐linear trend during overbank flows. The supply related component is predicted well using a sensitivity style metric that combines the cumulative duration of competent flows with the magnitude‐duration product of near‐threshold flows, defining a field‐scale exemplar of “stress history.” Further, the relative proportion of supply related coarse bedload yield relates strongly to the relative wetness of the previous year. High resolution, multiyear data reveal that controls on bedload dynamics are unique to a site's hydrogeoclimatic context and position in the river basin. Passive monitoring holds promise for generating “type sites” of bedload behavior critical for use in improving aquatic biodiversity and the sustainability of river management.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2020WR027774
Number of pages19
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number2
Early online date4 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 4 Feb 2021


  • bedload
  • passive monitoring
  • rating curve
  • sediment supply
  • sediment transport
  • stress history


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