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Evaluation of long-term bedload virtual velocity in gravel-bed rivers (Ardenne, Belgium)

Houbrechts, Geoffrey, Levecq, Yannick, Peeters, Alexandre, Hallot, Eric, Van Campenhout, Jean, Denis, Anne-Cécile, Petit, François
Geomorphology 2015 v.251 pp. 6-19
anthropogenic activities, bedload, ecological restoration, geomorphology, gravel, iron, rivers, slags, spawning, streams, tracer techniques, Belgium
In many gravel-bed rivers, bed material transfer has been interrupted or perturbed by anthropogenic activities. Currently, restoration projects are being conducted in many countries in order to re-establish bedload continuity. However, until now, few studies have provided indications of the velocity of bed material over the long-term (at least decade to century time-scale). In the context of river restoration projects (e.g. weir removal, addition of spawning gravel), these data are nevertheless crucial to predict the downstream propagation of the geomorphological and biological benefits (e.g. supply-transport equilibrium, morphological and substratum diversity). In our study, PIT-tag tracers were used in eight medium-sized gravel-bed rivers (Ardenne Region, Belgium) to propose a flow competence relationship based on specific stream power, on the one hand, and to determine the long-term virtual velocity of the bed material corresponding to the median diameter (D50) of the surface layer of riffles, on the other hand. After each flow event that exceeded the threshold for sediment entrainment, tagged particles were sought and located, even when they were buried in the subsurface layer. Afterwards, all of the data were used to estimate the virtual velocity of the bed material over the long-term using three approaches. Finally, the results were compared with long-term transport estimations based on iron slag dispersed by the rivers since the end of the middle ages.