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Using 15-minute acoustic data to analyze suspended-sediment dynamics in the Rio Grande in the Big Bend Region

August 15, 2015

The Rio Grande in the Big Bend region is subject to rapid geomorphic change consisting of channel narrowing during years of low flow, and channel widening during rare, large, long duration floods. Since the 1940s, there have been large declines in mean and peak stream flow, and the channel has progressively narrowed. Large, channel widening floods are infrequent and have failed to widen the channel to widths measured prior to the onset of channel narrowing in the 1940s. Before the most recent channel-widening flood in September 2008, the Rio Grande in the Big Bend was more than 50 percent narrower than measured in the 1940s.

Channel narrowing results in increased flood frequency and flood magnitude due to the loss of channel capacity and flood conveyance (Dean and Schmidt, 2011). Channel narrowing also results in the loss of important aquatic habitats such as backwaters and side-channels, because these habitats accumulate sediment and are converted to floodplains. Environmental managers are attempting to construct an environmental flow program for the purposes of minimizing channel narrowing during low flow years such that channel capacity, flood conveyance, and important aquatic habitats are maintained. Effective mitigation of channel narrowing processes requires an in-depth understanding of the predominant sediment source areas, the quantity of sediment input from those source areas, the parts of the flow regime responsible for the greatest sediment deposition, and the effect of managed flows in ameliorating the sediment loading that occurs within the channel.

Here, we analyze data collected with acoustic instrumentation at high temporal resolution to quantify suspended-sediment transport during a variety of flood types. We also investigate the effect of long duration managed flows in promoting sediment export and minimizing channel narrowing.

Publication Year 2015
Title Using 15-minute acoustic data to analyze suspended-sediment dynamics in the Rio Grande in the Big Bend Region
Authors David Dean, David Topping, Ronald E. Griffiths, Thomas A. Sabol, John C. Schmidt, Jeffery B. Bennett
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Index ID 70148358
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center