Sediment sources and connectivity linked to hydrologic pathways and geomorphic processes: A conceptual model to specify sediment sources and pathways through space and time

Frontiers in Water
By: , and 



Sediment connectivity is a conceptualization for the transfer and storage of sediment among different geomorphic compartments across upland landscapes and channel networks. Sediment connectivity and dysconnectivity are linked to the water cycle and hydrologic systems with the associated multiscale interactions with climate, soil, topography, ecology, and landuse/landcover under natural variability and human intervention. We review current sediment connectivity and modeling approaches evaluating and quantifying water and sediment transfer in catchment systems. Many studies highlight the interaction between sediment and water in defining landscape connectivity, but many efforts to quantify and/or simulate sediment connectivity rely on the topographic/structural controls on sediment erosion and delivery. More recent modeling efforts integrate functional and structural connectivity to capture hydrologic properties influencing sediment delivery. Though the recent modeling development is encouraging, a comprehensive sediment connectivity framework, which integrates geomorphic and hydrologic processes across spatiotemporal scales, has not yet been accomplished. Such an effort requires understanding the hydrologic and geomorphic processes that control sediment source, storage, and transport at different spatiotemporal scales and across various geophysical conditions. We propose a path for developing this new understanding through an integrated hydrologic and sediment connectivity conceptual model that broadly categorizes dominant processes and patterns relevant to understanding sediment flux dynamics. The conceptual model describes hydrologic–sediment connectivity regimes through spatial-temporal feedback between hydrologic processes and geomorphic drivers. We propose that in combining hydrologic and sediment connectivity into a single conceptual model, patterns emerge such that catchments will exist in a single characteristic behavior at a particular instance, which would shift with space and time, and with landscape disturbances. Using the conceptual model as a “thinking” tool, we extract case studies from a multidisciplinary literature review—from hydrology, geomorphology, biogeochemistry, and watershed modeling to remote-sensing technology—that correspond to each of the dominant hydrologic–sediment connectivity regimes. Sediment and water interactions in real-world examples through various observational and modeling techniques illustrate the advancements in the spatial and temporal scales of landscape connectivity observations and simulations. The conceptual model and case studies provide a foundation for advancing the understanding and predictive capability of watershed sediment processes at multiple spatiotemporal scales. Plain language summary: Soil erosion and movement across the landscape are closely linked to rain events and flow pathways. Landscape connectivity is a way to consider how soil erosion from different parts of the landscape is connected to the streams. We explore where soil erosion occurs and how eroded soil moves across the landscape through the interaction with rainfall and drainage. The comprehensive understanding of sediment connectivity and its dependence on rainfall characteristics and watershed hydrology may help to inform the effective distribution of conservation funds and management actions to address water pollution from excess sediment.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Sediment sources and connectivity linked to hydrologic pathways and geomorphic processes: A conceptual model to specify sediment sources and pathways through space and time
Series title Frontiers in Water
DOI 10.3389/frwa.2023.1241622
Volume 5
Year Published 2023
Language English
Publisher Frontiers
Contributing office(s) WMA - Earth System Processes Division
Description 1241622, 24 p.
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