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Earth Surface Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/esurf-2019-59
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/esurf-2019-59
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 06 Nov 2019

Submitted as: research article | 06 Nov 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Earth Surface Dynamics (ESurf).

Modelling impacts of spatially variable erosion drivers on suspended sediment dynamics

Giulia Battista, Peter Molnar, and Paolo Burlando Giulia Battista et al.
  • Institute of Environmental Engineering, ETH Zurich, 8093 Zurich, Switzerland

Abstract. The estimate of suspended sediment load in rivers is often highly problematic because of the strong variability in suspended sediment concentrations with discharge. Previous studies that investigated the sources of this variability highlight the need to explicitly account for the main hydrological processes controlling sediment erosion and transport at the catchment scale, their spatio-temporal variability and interactions with the topography and surface characteristics of the basin. In this paper we propose a novel physically explicit spatially distributed hillslope erosion and sediment transport model including these erosion drivers, based on the computationally efficient hydrological model TOPKAPI-ETH. We investigate its suitability to reproduce the variability of sediment concentrations at the outlet of a pre-alpine river basin in Switzerland and quantify the impacts of key spatially variable erosion drivers – rainfall and surface erodibility – on sediment dynamics. Our analysis shows that deterministic modelling can capture a significant part of the variability in suspended sediment concentrations. Spatial variability of erosion drivers affects sediment yield by (i) increasing sediment production due to a spatially variable precipitation, while decreasing it due to a spatially variable surface erodibility, (ii) favoring the clustering of sediment source areas, and (iii) decreasing their connectivity to the river network by magnifying sediment buffers. Finally, we discuss the results in the context of the geomorphology and landscape characteristics of our study area and compare our findings with other modelling and empirical studies on sources of sediment concentration variability.

Giulia Battista et al.
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Giulia Battista et al.
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Model inputs and simulation results G. Battista https://doi.org/10.3929/ethz-b-000358874

Giulia Battista et al.
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Short summary
Estimating suspended sediment load in rivers is complex due to the variability in the observed concentrations. We present a model for soil erosion and sediment transport in river basins that accounts for the main sources of this variability and can capture the scatter of the rating curve in a pre-alpine basin. We found that sediment load depends on the variability in space of erosion drivers, as this affects erosion rates and the location and connectivity to the channel of the erosion areas.
Estimating suspended sediment load in rivers is complex due to the variability in the observed...
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