Years participated in RESESS:
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Academic Affiliation: University of Texas at San Antonio
Research Mentors: Michael Lamb and Austin Chadwick
Communications Mentor: Colin Sturrock
Jose’s passion for the geosciences was sparked when his love for the outdoors led him to participate in a wild-cave tour. His current research interests reside in fluvial and coastal geomorphology. This summer, Jose used scaled physical experiments to investigate how sea-level rise might influence the frequency of channel avulsions on river deltas. The implications of this work will strengthen existing tools to better predict when avulsions occur.
Experimental investigation of channel avulsion frequency on river deltas under rising sea levels
River deltas are low-relief landscapes that are socioeconomically important; they are home to over half a billion people worldwide. Many deltas are built by cycles of lobe growth punctuated by abrupt channel shifts, or avulsions, which often reoccur at a similar location and with a regular frequency. Previous experimental work has investigated the effect of hydrodynamic backwater in controlling channel avulsion location and timing on deltas under constant sea level conditions, but it is unclear how sea-level rise impacts avulsion dynamics. We present results from a flume experiment designed to isolate the role of relative sea-level rise on the evolution of a backwater-influenced delta. The experiment was conducted in the river-ocean facility at Caltech, where a 7m long, 14cm wide alluvial river drains into a 6m by 3m “ocean” basin. The experimental delta grew under subcritical flow, a persistent backwater zone, and a range of sea level rise rates. Without sea level rise, lobe progradation produced in-channel aggradation and periodic avulsions every 3.6 ± 0.9 hours, which corresponded to when channels aggraded to approximately one-half of their flow depth. With a modest rate of sea-level rise (0.25 mm/hr), we observed enhanced aggradation in the backwater zone, causing channels to aggrade more quickly and avulse more frequently (every 2.1 ± 0.6 hours). In future work, we expect further increases in the rate of relative sea-level rise to cause avulsion frequency to decrease as the delta drowns and the backwater zone retreats upstream. Experimental results can serve as tests of numerical models that are needed for hazard mitigation and coastal sustainability efforts on drowning deltas.