Articles | Volume 20, issue 5
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 20, 2035–2046, 2016
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 20, 2035–2046, 2016

Research article 23 May 2016

Research article | 23 May 2016

Subsurface flow mixing in coarse, braided river deposits

Emanuel Huber1 and Peter Huggenberger2 Emanuel Huber and Peter Huggenberger
  • 1Department of Geological Sciences, Stanford University, 367 Panama St, Stanford, CA 94305-2220, USA
  • 2Applied and Environmental Geology, University of Basel, Bernoullistrasse 32, 4056 Basel, Switzerland

Abstract. Coarse, braided river deposits show a large hydraulic heterogeneity on the metre scale. One of the main depositional elements found in such deposits is a trough structure filled with layers of bimodal gravel and open-framework gravel, the latter being highly permeable. However, the impact of such trough fills on subsurface flow and advective mixing has not drawn much attention. A geologically realistic model of trough fills is proposed and fitted to a limited number of ground-penetrating radar records surveyed on the river bed of the Tagliamento River (northeast Italy). A steady-state, saturated subsurface flow simulation is performed on the small-scale, high-resolution, synthetic model (size: 75 m  ×  80 m  ×  9 m). Advective mixing (i.e. streamline intertwining) is visualised and quantified based on particle tracking. The results indicate strong advective mixing as well as a large flow deviation induced by the asymmetry of the trough fills with regard to the main flow direction. The flow deviation induces a partial, large-scale rotational effect. These findings depict possible advective mixing found in natural environments and can guide the interpretation of ecological processes such as in the hyporheic zone.

Short summary
This study puts the hydraulic heterogeneity of coarse, braided river deposits in concrete terms, combining geophysics and sedimentological observations; shows the possible impact of the heterogeneity on the three-dimensional flow field in terms of subsurface flow mixing; and demonstrates that not only the fast subsurface flow paths are important but also the hydraulic head field.