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River‐valley morphology, basin size, and flow‐event magnitude interact to produce wide variation in flooding dynamics
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    Ecosphere 10(4): e02546
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River‐valley morphology, basin size, and flow‐event magnitude interact to produce wide variation in flooding dynamics
  • Description:
    Inundation dynamics are a key driver of ecosystem form and function in river‐valley bottoms. Inundation itself is an outcome of multi‐scalar interactions and can vary strongly within and among river reaches. As a result, establishing to what degree and how inundation dynamics vary spatially both within and among river reaches can be challenging. The objective of this study was to understand how river‐valley morphology, basin size, and flow‐event magnitude interact to affect inundation dynamics in river‐valley bottoms. We used 2D hydraulic models to simulate inundation in four river reaches from Maryland's Piedmont physiographic province, and qualitatively and quantitatively summarized within‐ and among‐reach patterns of inundation extent, duration, depth, shear stress, and wetting frequencies. On average, reaches from confined valley settings experienced less extensive flooding, shorter durations and shallower depths, stronger gradients of maximum shear stress, and relatively infrequent wetting compared to reaches from unconfined settings. These patterns were generally consistent across flow‐event magnitudes. Patterns of within‐reach flooding across event magnitudes revealed complex interactions between hydrology and surface topography. We concluded that valley morphology had a greater impact on flooding patterns than basin size: Inundation patterns were more consistent across reaches of similar morphology than similar basin size, but absolute values of inundation characteristics varied between large and small basins. Our results showed that the manifestation of out‐of‐bank flows in valley floors can vary widely depending on geomorphic context, even within a single physiographic province, which suggests that hydrologic and hydraulic conditions experienced on the valley floor may not be well represented by existing hydrologic metrics derived from discharge data alone. We thus support the notion that 2D hydraulic models can be useful hydrometric tools for cross‐scale investigations of floodplain ecosystems.
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