Annual Distinguished Geomorphology and Society Lecture Series: How Alluvial Rivers Construct Their Own Bankfull Discharge or Can’t We Do Better Than the 1.5 Year Flood?

Type: Panel
Sponsor Groups: Geomorphology Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM (MDT)
Room: Balcony K, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Organizers: Peng Gao
Chairs: Peng Gao


Alluvial rivers are the authors of their own bankfull geometry. Many relations have been proposed to allow computation of bankfull geometry from a specified bankfull discharge. As for bankfull discharge itself, a common strategy is to declare that it is the flood discharge with the 1.5 year recurrence interval and then walk away from the problem. Yet in the broad sense, bankfull discharge is a dependent variable, just as bankfull depth and width. Here we take a step back, and specify the flow duration curve, in addition to bed material load and wash load supply. The river can increase its channel depth through overbank deposition, and can decrease it by floodplain shaving, according to which the channel preferentially migrates into older, higher floodplain. Overbank deposition is favored by discharges sufficiently high to spill onto the floodplain. Shaving is favored by flood flows that are nevertheless mostly in-channel, allowing the thread of high velocity to hug and erode outer banks. We present a model which includes both bed material load and wash load, and which seeks a balance between shaving and overbank deposition by integrating over the flow duration curve. This analysis allows computation of bankfull discharge. In the case of the lower Minnesota River, Minnesota, we find that bankfull discharge corresponds to a flow that is exceeded about 2.5 % of the time.

Gary Parker
Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering and
Dept. of Geology
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign


Type Details Minutes
Introduction Gary Parker University of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign 20
Discussant Gary Parker University of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign 20
Panelist Gary Parker University of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign 20

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