William Chapman

UC Santa Cruz

“Climate controls the efficiency of suspended sediment transport in rivers across the United States”

Climate plays an important role in the overall behavior of sediment transport in rivers. This work explores whether rivers in arid climates transport sediment more efficiently than rivers in temperate climates, a topic with important implications for current and future flood hazards.


The magnitude and frequency of sediment transport in rivers depends on many different factors and varies considerably throughout the world. For example, intermittently dry desert streams are often associated with extremely high sediment loads, which can lead to unstable channels and greater flood risks. However, a direct link between climate and the efficiency of sediment transport has not been demonstrated on a broad scale. In this study, I examine decades of continuous flow records and field measurements of suspended sediment concentration for 71 rivers across the United States, examining the relationship between sediment transport behavior and aridity. I find that rivers in more arid locations transport greater concentrations of sediment for a given flow rate relative to rivers in more temperate climates. This finding is particularly important for natural hazard assessment, given that sediment transport behavior significantly affects flood risk. Understanding the connection between climate and sediment transport is essential for mitigating the impact of shifting river conditions due to climate change.

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