Skip to main content

Sediment and Wood Routing in Steep Headwater Streams: An Overview of Geomorphic Processes and their Topographic Signatures

Buy Article:

$29.50 plus tax (Refund Policy)


Headwater streams in steep terrain pose a significant challenge for the development of best management practices (BMP) in forested watersheds. There is an incomplete understanding of the processes that govern the input, storage, and transport of sediment and wood, and these processes differ geographically. At the upstream extent of the channel network, headwater streams represent a transition from hillslope to channel processes. At the downstream extent, many of these channels transition from mass wasting to fluvial process dominance. Large-scale sediment routing processes typically consist of debris flows, earth flows, and/or gully erosion. In the interval between episodic transport events, headwater streams can interrupt the delivery of sediment from hillslopes to larger river systems by storing large volumes of sediment and wood. Forest management guidelines typically identify headwater streams as occurring upstream of the distribution of fish; however, a topographically based designation of headwater streams could prove useful for identifying which erosional processes are dominant in a particular area. Broad-scale terrain analysis based on unique topographic signatures can be used to identify the spatial domain of different geomorphic landforms that govern headwater stream processes, how they may be affected by forest management, and to infer the type and severity of downstream disturbance.

Keywords: erosion, sediment; headwater streams; large woody debris; watershed processes

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Christine May, PhD, Department of Geology and Environmental Science, James Madison University, Memorial Hall, 7100, Harrisonburg, VA 22807—Phone: (540) 568-3339;, Fax: (540) 568-8058, Email:

Publication date: April 1, 2007

More about this publication?
  • Forest Science is a peer-reviewed journal publishing fundamental and applied research that explores all aspects of natural and social sciences as they apply to the function and management of the forested ecosystems of the world. Topics include silviculture, forest management, biometrics, economics, entomology & pathology, fire & fuels management, forest ecology, genetics & tree improvement, geospatial technologies, harvesting & utilization, landscape ecology, operations research, forest policy, physiology, recreation, social sciences, soils & hydrology, and wildlife management.
    Forest Science is published bimonthly in February, April, June, August, October, and December.

    2015 Impact Factor: 1.702
    Ranking: 16 of 66 in forestry

    Also published by SAF:
    Journal of Forestry
    Other SAF Publications
  • Submit a Paper
  • Membership Information
  • Author Guidelines
  • Ingenta Connect is not responsible for the content or availability of external websites

Access Key

Free Content
Free content
New Content
New content
Open Access Content
Open access content
Partial Open Access Content
Partial Open access content
Subscribed Content
Subscribed content
Free Trial Content
Free trial content
Cookie Policy
Cookie Policy
Ingenta Connect website makes use of cookies so as to keep track of data that you have filled in. I am Happy with this Find out more