Lithological and fluvial controls on geomorphology of tropical montane stream channels in Puerto Rico

TitleLithological and fluvial controls on geomorphology of tropical montane stream channels in Puerto Rico
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsPike, AS, Scantena, FN, Wohl, EE
JournalEarth Surface and Landforms
Date Published01/2010
Accession NumberLUQ.956
Keywordschannel profiles, colluvial–fluvial processes, hydraulics, lithology, morphology, mountain streams

An extensive survey and topographic analysis of five watersheds draining the Luquillo Mountains in north-eastern Puerto Rico was conducted to decouple the relative influences of lithologic and hydraulic forces in shaping the morphology of tropical montane stream channels. The Luquillo Mountains are a steep landscape composed of volcaniclastic and igneous rocks that exert a localized lithologic influence on the stream channels. However, the stream channels also experience strong hydraulic forcing due to high unit discharge in the humid rainforest environment. GIS-based topographic analysis was used to examine channel profiles, and survey data were used to analyze downstream changes in channel geometry, grain sizes, stream power, and shear stresses. Results indicate that the longitudinal profiles are generally well graded but have concavities that reflect the influence of multiple rock types and colluvial-alluvial transitions. Non-fluvial processes, such as landslides, deliver coarse boulder-sized sediment to the channels and may locally determine channel gradient and geometry. Median grain size is strongly related to drainage area and slope, and coarsens in the headwaters before fining in the downstream reaches; a pattern associated with a mid-basin transition between colluvial and fluvial processes. Downstream hydraulic geometry relationships between discharge, width and velocity (although not depth) are well developed for all watersheds. Stream power displays a mid-basin maximum in all basins, although the ratio of stream power to coarse grain size (indicative of hydraulic forcing) increases downstream. Excess dimensionless shear stress at bankfull flow wavers around the threshold for sediment mobility of the median grain size, and does not vary systematically with bankfull discharge; a common characteristic in self-forming ‘threshold’ alluvial channels. The results suggest that although there is apparent bedrock and lithologic control on local reach-scale channel morphology, strong fluvial forces acting over time have been sufficient to override boundary resistance and give rise to systematic basin-scale patterns. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.