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Decadal changes in channel morphology of a freely meandering river—Powder River, Montana, 1975–2016

March 26, 2018

Few studies exist on the long-term geomorphic effects of floods. However, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) was able to begin such a study after a 50-year recurrence interval flood in 1978 because 20 channel cross sections along a 100-kilometer reach of river were established in 1975 and 1977 as part of a study for a proposed dam on Powder River in southeastern Montana. These cross-section measurements (data for each channel cross section are available at the USGS ScienceBase website) have been repeated about 30 times during four decades (1975–2016) and provide a unique dataset for understanding long-term changes in channel morphology caused by an extreme flood and a spectrum of annual floods.

Changes in channel morphology of a 100-kilometer reach of Powder River are documented in a series of narratives for each channel cross section that include a time series of photographs as a record of these changes. The primary change during the first decade (1975–85) was the rapid vertical growth of a new inset flood plain within the flood-widened channel. Changes during the second decade (1985–95) were characterized by slower growth of the flood plain, and the effects of ice-jam floods typical of a northward-flowing river. Changes during the third decade (1995–2005) showed little vertical growth of the inset flood plain, which had reached a height that limited overbank deposition. And changes during the final decade (2005–16) covered in this report showed that, because the new inset flood plain had reached a limiting height, the effects of the large annual flood of 2008 (largest flood since 1978) were relatively small compared to smaller floods in previous decades. Throughout these four decades, the riparian vegetation, which interacts with the river, has undergone a gradual but substantial change that may have lasting effects on the channel morphology.

Publication Year 2018
Title Decadal changes in channel morphology of a freely meandering river—Powder River, Montana, 1975–2016
DOI 10.3133/ofr20181012
Authors John A. Moody, Robert H. Meade
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2018-1012
Index ID ofr20181012
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Research Program - Central Branch