Articles | Volume 3, issue 4
Research article
18 Nov 2015
Research article |  | 18 Nov 2015

Bedload transport in a formerly glaciated mountain catchment constrained by particle tracking

A. Dell'Agnese, F. Brardinoni, M. Toro, L. Mao, M. Engel, and F. Comiti

Abstract. In formerly glaciated mountain settings, Pleistocene glaciations are responsible for profound spatial reorganization of the landscape structure. By imposing local channel slope and the degree of hillslope–channel connectivity, glacial macro-forms can exert first-order controls on the downstream strength and continuity of the coarse sediment cascade. To estimate quantitatively these controls we trace bedload transport for 3 years along Strimm Creek, Eastern Italian Alps. Specifically, we monitor the travel distance of 490 PIT-tagged particles (b axis: 23–229 mm; weight: 83–6525 g) at two contrasting sites: Upper Strimm Creek (US; 4 km2), which flows through a fluvially dominated hanging valley, and Lower Strimm Creek (LS; 7.5 km2), located downstream, in a relict glacial trough where it experiences periodic colluvial sediment inputs from lateral tributaries. Tracer positioning within the streambed is periodically tracked in the field with a portable antenna in order to assess progressive travel distances, as well as the extent of the channel active layer, in relation to snowmelt and rainfall-driven peak flows. Interestingly, we show that tracer virtual velocities for selected inter-survey periods are independent of tracer weight at both study sites. Cumulatively, tracers in US have travelled across distances (i.e. inner quartiles) shorter than 2 m, which correspond to over 2 orders of magnitude less than what was observed in LS. These figures translate, after calculations of tracer inter-survey virtual velocities, into estimated bedload volumes equal to about 3 m3 in US and 600 m3 in LS, with most of the transport (75 % in US, and 93 % in LS) occurring during snowmelt. A similar contrast in bedload transport rates, even without considering the additional volumes of material mobilized by mass-wasting processes in LS, testifies the extent to which the glacial imprinting can still affect contemporary sediment transfer, and thus postglacial landscape evolution, in mountain drainage basins.

Short summary
The paper assesses bedload transport in a formerly glaciated high-mountain basin by means of a virtual velocities approach. Virtual velocities were derived by surveying tracers movement over a 3-year study period. Tracers were deployed in two contrasting sites, a fluvially dominated hanging valley and a downstream relict glacial trough where periodic colluvial sediment inputs from tributaries are experienced. We also investigate contribution given to bedload transport by rainfall and snowmelt.