Thresholds of flow-induced bed disturbances and their effects on stream metabolism in an agricultural river

Ben L. Oconnor, Judson W. Harvey, Lauren E. McPhillips

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58 Scopus citations


Storm-driven flow pulses in rivers destroy and restructure sediment habitats that affect stream metabolism. This study examined thresholds of bed disturbances that affected patch- and reach-scale sediment conditions and metabolism rates. A 4 year record of discharge and diel changes in dissolved oxygen concentrations (DO) was analyzed for disturbances and recovery periods of the DO signal. Disturbances to the DO signal were associated with flow pulses, and the recovery times for the DO signal were found to be in two categories: less than 5 days (30% of the disturbances) or greater than 15 days (70% of the disturbances). A field study was performed during the fall of 2007, which included a storm event that increased discharge from 3.1 to 6.9 m 3/s over a 7 h period. During stable flow conditions before the storm, variability in patch-scale stream metabolism values were associated with sediment texture classes with values ranging from -16.4 to 2.3 g O 2/m 2/d (negative sign indicates net respiration) that bounded the reach-averaged rate of -5.6 g O 2/m 2/d. Hydraulic modeling of bed shear stresses demonstrated a storm-induced flow pulse mobilized approximately 25% of the bed and reach-scale metabolism rates shifted from -5 to -40 g O 2/m 2/d. These results suggest that storm-induced bed disturbances led to threshold behavior with respect to stream metabolism. Small flow pulses resulted in partial-bed mobilization that disrupted stream metabolism by increased turbidity with short recovery times. Large flow pulses resulted in full-bed mobilization that disrupted stream metabolism by destroying periphyton habitats with long recovery times.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberW08504
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology


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