Surprising suspended sediment dynamics of an alpine basin affected by a large infrequent disturbance

Pellegrini, Giacolo, Mao, Luca, Rainato, Riccardo and Picco, Lorenzo (2023) Surprising suspended sediment dynamics of an alpine basin affected by a large infrequent disturbance. Journal of Hydrology, 617 (A). ISSN 0022-1694

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Surprising suspended sediment dynamics of an alpine basin affected by a large infrequent disturbance
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In many environments, climate change causes an increase in the frequency and magnitude of Large Infrequent Disturbances (LIDs). LIDs make fragile areas, as mountain basins, even more vulnerable, along with local communities that could be severely affected by extreme events. Among all LIDs, windthrows are one of the most relevant and yet rather unpredictable disturbances affecting the Alpine region. Windthrows can affect the forest cover and morphological settings at the basin scale, changing the supply of sediments to river networks and affecting the sediment cascading processes. This work aims at (i) identifying the contribution of Suspended Sediment Load (SSL) from a windthrow-managed-affected area induced in an Alpine basin by a recent LID (Vaia rainstorm, 2018), (ii) assessing the annual, seasonal and monthly variation in the SSL, and (iii) analysing the changes in SSL fluxes and dynamics in the 2nd and 3rd year after the LID in comparison to those detected after a similar high magnitude event occurred in 1994. To do so, two multiparameter sondes measuring the water level and the turbidity were installed upstream and downstream the windthrow-affected area. Discharge measurements and water samples were collected to obtain the rating curves and calibrate the turbidity meters in order to derive suspended sediment loads (SSL). The results show that the windthrow-affected area was significantly contributing suspended sediment during events occurring two years after Vaia (2020) but less intensively in those occurred three years after the event itself (2021). Both the events average intensity rainfalls and the total precipitation appear to be the best predictors of both the peak of suspended sediment concentration (SSCp), the total suspended sediment (SSL) and the suspended sediment percentage variation among the two cross-sections. The seasonal and monthly analysis revealed to be in line with those detected prior the disturbance. The analyzed LID affected the transport efficiency for near-bankfull events but not the annual sediment yield as it was found after the previous high magnitude flood event recorded in 1994. Unexpectedly, the mean rate of SSL (42 t km -2 yr−1) is indeed comparable with what monitored during the decade before Vaia (2004–2014) (40 t km -2 yr−1). Such surprising results may be explained by the fact that the Rio Cordon basin have had an alluvial response rather than colluvial during the Vaia rainstorm event and that the basin’s resilience may be in a different stage as compared to the one of 1994, when the catchment featured different cascading processes that completely overturn the suspended sediment dynamics and fluxes for about a decade.

Keywords:Vaia rainstorm, Suspended sediment, Cascading processes, Mountain basin resilience
Subjects:F Physical Sciences > F820 Geomorphology
Divisions:COLLEGE OF HEALTH AND SCIENCE > School of Life and Environmental Sciences > Department of Geography
ID Code:55853
Deposited On:15 Sep 2023 11:01

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