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Modeling Water-Surface Elevations and Virtual Shorelines for the Colorado River in Grand Canyon, Arizona

May 18, 2008

Using widely-available software intended for modeling rivers, a new one-dimensional hydraulic model was developed for the Colorado River through Grand Canyon from Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek. Solving one-dimensional equations of energy and continuity, the model predicts stage for a known steady-state discharge at specific locations, or cross sections, along the river corridor. This model uses 2,680 cross sections built with high-resolution digital topography of ground locations away from the river flowing at a discharge of 227 m3/s; synthetic bathymetry was created for topography submerged below the 227 m3/s water surface. The synthetic bathymetry was created by adjusting the water depth at each cross section up or down until the model?s predicted water-surface elevation closely matched a known water surface. This approach is unorthodox and offers a technique to construct one-dimensional hydraulic models of bedrock-controlled rivers where bathymetric data have not been collected. An analysis of this modeling approach shows that while effective in enabling a useful model, the synthetic bathymetry can differ from the actual bathymetry. The known water-surface profile was measured using elevation data collected in 2000 and 2002, and the model can simulate discharges up to 5,900 m3/s. In addition to the hydraulic model, GIS-based techniques were used to estimate virtual shorelines and construct inundation maps.

The error of the hydraulic model in predicting stage is within 0.4 m for discharges less than 1,300 m3/s. Between 1,300-2,500 m3/s, the model accuracy is about 1.0 m, and for discharges between 2,500-5,900 m3/s, the model accuracy is on the order of 1.5 m.

In the absence of large floods on the flow-regulated Colorado River in Grand Canyon, the new hydraulic model and the accompanying inundation maps are a useful resource for researchers interested in water depths, shorelines, and stage-discharge curves for flows within the river corridor with 2002 topographic conditions.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2008
Title Modeling Water-Surface Elevations and Virtual Shorelines for the Colorado River in Grand Canyon, Arizona
DOI 10.3133/sir20085075
Authors Christopher S. Magirl, Michael J. Breedlove, Robert H. Webb, Peter G. Griffiths
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2008-5075
Index ID sir20085075
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization U.S. Geological Survey

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