The role of log jams and exceptional flood events in mobilizing coarse particulate organic matter in a steep headwater stream
Abstract. Coarse particulate organic matter (CPOM) fulfills important functions in the physical and ecological system of a stream. CPOM delivery to and export from the stream has implications for the stream's morphology and sediment transport capacity as well as the energy budget and food availability. Export rates of CPOM from mountain catchments have been observed to strongly increase with rising discharge, but the mechanism leading to this strong relationship is unclear. Here, we show that log jams in the Erlenbach, a steep headwater stream in the Swiss Prealps, are an effective barrier for the transport of CPOM pieces, and thus become sites of storage of large quantities of material over time. Exceptional discharge events with return periods exceeding 20 years play a dual role in CPOM transport in the Erlenbach. First, they appear to destroy existing log jams, releasing the stored material (wood and sediment). Second, they intensify channel–hillslope coupling, thereby recruiting new logs to the channel, around which new jams can form. This allows for the formulation of a new, fully episodic end-member in a four-end-member model of CPOM dynamics of steep mountain streams based on wood delivery and export.