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Open Access Publications from the University of California

From Grain to Floodplain: Evaluating heterogeneity of floodplain hydrostatigraphy using sedimentology, geophysics, and remote sensing

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Stratigraphy is a fundamental component of floodplain heterogeneity and hydraulic conductivity and connectivity of alluvial aquifers, which affect hydrologic processes such as groundwater flow and hyporheic exchange. Watershed-scale hydrological models commonly simplify the sedimentology and stratigraphy of floodplains, neglecting natural floodplain heterogeneity and anisotropy. This study, conducted in the upper reach of the East River in the East River Basin, Colorado, USA, combines point-, meander-, and floodplain-scale data to determine key features of alluvial aquifers important for estimating hydrologic processes. We compare stratigraphy of two meanders with disparate geometries to explore floodplain heterogeneity and connectivity controls on flow and transport. Meander shape, orientation, and internal stratigraphy affected residence time estimates of laterally exchanged hyporheic water. Although the two meanders share a sediment source, vegetation, and climate, their divergent river migration histories resulted in contrasting meander hydrofacies. In turn, the extent and orientation of these elements controlled the effective hydraulic conductivity and, ultimately, estimates of groundwater transport and hyporheic residence times. Additionally, the meanders’ orientation relative to the valley gradient impacted the hydraulic gradient across the meanders—a key control of groundwater velocity. Lastly, we combine our field data with remotely sensed data and introduce a potential approach to estimate key hydrostratigraphic packages across floodplains. Prospective applications include contaminant transport studies, hyporheic models, and watershed models. © 2019 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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