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Relative contributions of  suspended sediment between the upper Suiattle River Basin and a non-glacial tributary, Washington, May 2016–September 2017

July 19, 2022

Concentrations of suspended sediment were measured in discrete samples and turbidity was continuously monitored at four U.S. Geological Survey streamgages in western Washington State, including one gage on the Sauk River; two gages on the Suiattle River, a tributary to the Sauk River; and one gage on Downey Creek, a tributary to the Suiattle River. The Suiattle River is a sediment-rich stream with headwaters on Glacier Peak, a glaciated volcano in the northern Cascade Range.

Contributions of suspended sediment to the Suiattle River from unglaciated tributaries, represented by Downey Creek, were compared to the contributions from Glacier Peak in the upper Suiattle River watershed. During summer 2017, a period for which complete records of discharge and sediment data were available for all three streamgages in the Suiattle River Basin, the suspended-sediment load from Downey Creek (drainage area [DA] 93 square kilometers [km2]) was 1,400 metric tons, which is equivalent to a sediment yield of about 15 metric tons per km2. During the same period, the suspended-sediment load from the upper Suiattle River (DA 176 km2) was 142,000 metric tons, or a sediment yield of about 800 metric tons per km2; and the suspended-sediment load from the lower Suiattle River (DA 733 km2) was 230,000 metric tons, or a sediment yield of about 300 metric tons per km2. The Downey Creek Basin accounts for 13 percent of the drainage area of the Suiattle River watershed but contributed only 0.6 percent of the suspended-sediment load over the summer of 2017 and water year 2017 (October 1, 2016–September 30, 2017). In contrast, the upper Suiattle River Basin, which accounts for 24 percent of the entire Suiattle River watershed, contributed 62 percent of the suspended-sediment load during the summer of 2017.

Given the short period for which data were collected, it cannot be known with certainty whether the above values are representative of long-term means. The relatively minor contribution of suspended sediment from Downey Creek, however, is consistent with the expectation that the upper Suiattle River, which drains Glacier Peak, is the dominant contemporary source of suspended sediment to the Sauk River. During summer 2016, the suspended-sediment load in the upper Siuattle River (180,000 metric tons) was more than double the estimated load in the lower Sauk River (80,000 metric tons), even though the upper Suiattle River represents only 10 percent of the total contributing area to the lower Sauk River Basin. This ratio of relative contribution is interpreted as an indication of transient storage of sediment along the Suiattle and Sauk Rivers between the two streamgaging stations. In the glaciated upper Suiattle River Basin, sediment is transported by annual glacial-melt processes in spring and summer months, deposited during the summer base-flow period, and then remobilized by fall and winter floods for delivery to the lower Sauk River.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2022
Title Relative contributions of  suspended sediment between the upper Suiattle River Basin and a non-glacial tributary, Washington, May 2016–September 2017
DOI 10.3133/ofr20221056
Authors Kristin L. Jaeger, Scott W. Anderson, Craig A. Senter, Christopher A. Curran, Scott Morris
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2022-1056
Index ID ofr20221056
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Washington Water Science Center