Vegetative impacts upon bedload transport capacity and channel stability for differing alluvial planforms in the Yellow River source zone
Abstract. The influence of vegetation upon bedload transport and channel morphodynamics is examined along a channel stability gradient ranging from meandering to anabranching to anabranching–braided to fully braided planform conditions along trunk and tributary reaches of the Upper Yellow River in western China. Although the regional geology and climate are relatively consistent across the study area, there is a distinct gradient in the presence and abundance of riparian vegetation for these reaches atop the Qinghai–Tibet Plateau (elevations in the study area range from 2800 to 3400 m a.s.l.). To date, the influence of vegetative impacts upon channel planform and bedload transport capacity of alluvial reaches of the Upper Yellow River remains unclear because of a lack of hydrological and field data. In this region, the types and pattern of riparian vegetation vary with planform type as follows: trees exert the strongest influence in the anabranching reach, the meandering reach flows through meadow vegetation, the anabranching–braided reach has a grass, herb, and sparse shrub cover, and the braided reach has no riparian vegetation. A non-linear relation between vegetative cover on the valley floor and bedload transport capacity is evident, wherein bedload transport capacity is the highest for the anabranching reach, roughly followed by the anabranching–braided, braided, and meandering reaches. The relationship between the bedload transport capacity of a reach and sediment supply from upstream exerts a significant influence upon channel stability. Bedload transport capacity during the flood season (June–September) in the braided reach is much less than the rate of sediment supply, inducing bed aggradation and dynamic channel adjustments. Rates of channel adjustment are less pronounced for the anabranching–braided and anabranching reaches, while the meandering reach is relatively stable (i.e., this is a passive meandering reach).