Mapping the spatial and temporal distributions of large woody debris in rivers of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, USA

Marcus, W.A., Marston, R.A., Colvard, C.R. and Gray, R.D.

Geomorphology, Vol. 44 Issue 3-4 pp. 323-335


The objectives of this study were: (1) to document spatial and temporal distributions of large woody debris (LWD) at watershed scales and investigate some of the controlling processes; and (2) to judge the potential for mapping LWD accumulations with airborne multispectral imagery. Field surveys were conducted on the Snake River, Soda Butte Creek, and Cache Creek in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, USA. The amount of woody debris per kilometer is highest in 2nd order streams, widely variable in 3rd and 4th order streams, and relatively low in the 6th order system. Floods led to increases in woody debris in 2nd order streams. Floods redistributed the wood in 3rd and 4th order streams, removing it from the channel and stranding it on bars, but appeared to generate little change in the total amount of wood throughout the channel system. The movement of woody debris suggests a system that is the reverse of most sediment transport systems in mountains. In 1st and 2nd order tributaries, the wood is too large to be moved and the system is transport-limited, with floods introducing new material through undercutting, but not removing wood through downstream transport. In the intermediate 3rd and 4th order channels, the system displays characteristics of dynamic equilibrium, where the channel is able remove the debris at approximately the same rate that it is introduced. The spatial distribution and quantity of wood in 3rd and 4th order reaches varies widely, however, as wood is alternatively stranded on gravel bars or moved downstream during periods of bar mobilization. In the 6th order and larger channels, the system becomes supply-limited, where almost all material in the main stream can be transported out of the central channel by normal stream flows and deposition occurs primarily on banks or in eddy pool environments. Attempts to map woody debris with 1-m resolution digital four-band imagery were generally unsuccessful, primarily because the imagery could not distinguish the narrow logs within a pixel from the surrounding sand and gravel background and due to problems in precisely coregistering imagery and field maps.

Patrick Cross2002