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

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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.
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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: [email protected]

Publication date: 2007-04-01

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.

    2016 Impact Factor: 1.782 (Rank 17/64 in forestry)

    Average time from submission to first decision: 62.5 days*
    June 1, 2016 to Feb. 28, 2017

    Also published by SAF:
    Journal of Forestry
    Other SAF Publications
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