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Suspended sediment transport by rivers: A geomorphological and hydrological perspective

Suspended sediment transport by rivers: A geomorphological and hydrological perspective

Ergebnisse der Limnologie 0(47): 1-27

In most rivers of the world, the fine-grained particulate or suspended sediment load will be dominated by material mobilized from the upstream drainage basin and transported through the river system. Any attempt to understand the nature and behaviour of fluvial suspended sediment must therefore take account of the physiographic characteristics of the upstream drainage basin and the geomorphological and hydrological processes responsible for mobilizing and transporting sediment within the basin. This contribution aims to emphasize the importance of a geomorphological and hydrological perspective for investigations of fine particulate material transport by rivers. At the global scale, variations in annual suspended sediment yields and mean suspended sediment concentrations and in the grain size composition of the sediment reflect the nature and intensity of the erosion processes operating and the efficiency of the sediment delivery system. A geomorphological perspective is essential to understand the patterns involved. Looking in more detail at river loads, a hydrological perspective emphasizes the non-capacity or supplycontrolled nature of suspended sediment transport and the potential complexity of relationships between suspended sediment concentration, grain size composition, and chemistry, and water discharge. Detailed investigations of the behaviour of fine-grained particulate material in rivers should therefore combine both geomorphological and hydrological perspectives and consider the dynamics of the entire upstream drainage basin, since temporal and spatial variations in contributing areas and in sediment sources and the nature and extent of conveyance losses within the system will influence suspended sediment transport at the basin outlet. Aggregation or flocculation processes operating within the river system will also act to modify the size and density of the transported particles, which in turn exert an important influence on transport and deposition processes, particularly during periods of floodplain inundation.

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