Sediment contributions from floodplains and legacy sediments to Piedmont streams of Baltimore County, Maryland

By: , and 



Disparity between watershed erosion rates and downstream sediment delivery has remained an important theme in geomorphology for many decades, with the role of floodplains in sediment storage as a common focus. In the Piedmont Province of the eastern USA, upland deforestation and agricultural land use following European settlement led to accumulation of thick packages of overbank sediment in valley bottoms, commonly referred to as legacy deposits. Previous authors have argued that legacy deposits represent a potentially important source of modern sediment loads following remobilization by lateral migration and progressive channel widening. This paper seeks to quantify (1) rates of sediment remobilization from Baltimore County floodplains by channel migration and bank erosion, (2) proportions of streambank sediment derived from legacy deposits, and (3) potential contribution of net streambank erosion and legacy sediments to downstream sediment yield within the Mid-Atlantic Piedmont.

We calculated measurable gross erosion and deposition rates within the fluvial corridor along 40 valley segments from 18 watersheds with drainage areas between 0.18 and 155 km2 in Baltimore County, Maryland. We compared stream channel and floodplain morphology from lidar-based digital elevation data collected in 2005 with channel positions recorded on 1:2400 scale topographic maps from 1959–1961 in order to quantify 44–46 years of channel change. Sediment bulk density and particle size distributions were characterized from streambank and channel deposit samples and used for volume to mass conversions and for comparison with other sediment sources.

Average annual lateral migration rates ranged from 0.04 to 0.19 m/y, which represented an annual migration of 2.5% (0.9–4.4%) channel width across all study segments, suggesting that channel dimensions may be used as reasonable predictors of bank erosion rates. Gross bank erosion rates varied from 43 to 310 Mg/km/y (median = 114) and were positively correlated with drainage area. Measured deposition within channels accounted for an average of 46% (28–75%) of gross erosion, with deposition increasingly important in larger drainages. Legacy sediments accounted for 6–90% of bank erosion at individual study segments, represented about 60% of bank height at most exposures, and accounted for 57% (± 16%) of the measured gross erosion. Extrapolated results indicated that first- and second-order streams accounted for 62% (± 38%) of total streambank erosion from 1005 km2 of northern Baltimore County. After accounting for estimated redeposition, extrapolated net streambank sediment yields (72 Mg/km2/y) constituted 70% of estimated average Piedmont watershed yields (104 Mg/km2/y). The results suggest that streambank sediments are a relatively large source of sediment from Piedmont tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Sediment contributions from floodplains and legacy sediments to Piedmont streams of Baltimore County, Maryland
Series title Geomorphology
DOI 10.1016/j.geomorph.2015.01.025
Volume 235
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Maryland Water Science Center
Description 18 p.
First page 88
Last page 105
Country United States
State Maryland
County Baltimore County
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