Estimating the contribution of tributary sand inputs to controlled flood deposits for sandbar restoration using elemental tracers, Colorado River, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Katherine A. Chapman, Rebecca J. Best, M. Elliot Smith, Erich R. Mueller, Paul E. Grams, Roderic A. Parnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Completion of Glen Canyon Dam in 1963 resulted in complete elimination of sediment delivery from the upstream Colorado River basin to Grand Canyon and nearly complete control of spring snowmelt floods responsible for creating channel and bar morphology. Management of the river ecosystem in Grand Canyon National Park now relies on dam-release floods to redistribute tributary-derived sediment accumulated on the channel bed to higher-elevation sandbars. Here, we used multivariate mixing analysis of sediment elemental compositions to evaluate the extent to which flood deposits derive from tributary-supplied sand compared to reworked, relict predam sediment. The concentrations of seven major and trace elements (Fe, Ca, K, Ti, Rb, Sr, and Zr) were measured in very fine-, fine-, and medium-grained sand from flood deposits using X-ray fluorescence and interpreted using a Bayesian mixing model to characterize the proportion of sand originating from the Paria River, the only major tributary within the study reach. Flood deposits from the 2013 and 2014 controlled floods contained 69% ± 16% and 84% ±20% Paria River-derived material, respectively, with substantial variation among sites. Based on a sand mass balance, we calculated that under decreasing storage conditions since 1963, ~77%-83% of the annual Paria River sand flux needs to be retained within the mass of active sand stored in Marble Canyon each year to reach the observed concentration of Paria River sand at sample locations. This finding suggests that the use of controlled floods may continue to be effective for sandbar maintenance, provided sand inputs from the Paria River do not decline.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1141-1156
Number of pages16
JournalBulletin of the Geological Society of America
Volume133
Issue number5-6
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology

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