Development of Montane Arroyos and Gullies

Document Type


Subject Area(s)

Geography, Physical; Geosciences, Multidisciplinary


Field investigations in the Front Range of Colorado, U.S.A., confirm that the spatial distribution of vegetation in watersheds exerts strong control on the entrenchment of streams in the montane zone. When tractive force in channels exceeds threshold values of resistance on the valley floors, cutting of arroyos begins, producing forms that change allometrically. An algorithm based on the Cooke Method for discharge, the Manning Equation for depth of flow, and the DuBoys Equation for tractive force can be used to evaluate force for observed and experimental conditions. In small (<5 km2) basins in the Front Range of Colorado, forces for the 10-year discharge commonly range from 1 to 5 dynes, but the resistance offered by valley floors is usually unable to withstand forces from channel flows greater than 2 dynes. Biomass of vegetation on the valley floor exerts significant control on the trenching process, with threshold values of biomass commonly between 1.5 and 9 kg/m2, the range of semi-arid vegetation cover. Thresholds exist in the montane erosion system for gradient, mean biomass in the basin, biomass on the valley floor, channel roughness, and channel width. Each threshold value, however, depends on the interrelationships among other variables in the system. Manipulation of the vegetation cover is the primary human impact on the montane channels, and management of the distribution of vegetation offers the most efficient method of maintaining the stability of channels.

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