Changes in Streambank Erodibility and Critical Shear Stress Due to Surface Subaerial Processes

TR Number
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Virginia Tech

Previous studies have shown that soil erodibility and critical shear stress are highly influenced by weathering processes such as freeze-thaw cycling and wet-dry cycling. Despite over forty years of research attributing changes in soil properties over time to climate-dependent variables, little quantitative information is available on the relationships between streambank erodibility and critical shear stress and environmental conditions and processes that enhance streambank erosion potential. The goal of this study was to investigate temporal changes in streambank erodibility and critical shear stress due to surface weathering.

Soil erodibility and critical shear stress were measured monthly in situ using a multi-angle submerged jet test device. Environmental and soil data were also collected directly at the streambank surface to determine freeze-thaw cycles, soil moisture, soil temperature, bulk density, soil erodibility, critical shear stress, and other atmospheric conditions that could impact bank erosion potential. Statistical tests, including a nonparametric alternative to ANOVA and multiple comparison tests, were used to determine if temporal changes in soil erosion potential were greater than spatial differences. Regression analyses were also utilized to identify the factors contributing to possible changes in soil erodibility, critical shear stress, and bulk density.

The nonparametric alternative to ANOVA in combination with Dunn's nonparametric multiple comparison test showed soil erodibility was significantly higher (p=0.024) during the winter (November - March) and the spring/fall (April - May, September - October). Regression analyses showed 70 percent of soil erodibility variance was attributed to freeze-thaw cycling alone. Study results also indicated that bulk density is highly influenced by climate changes since gravimetric water content and freeze-thaw cycles combined explain as much as 86 percent of the variance in bulk density measurements.

Results of this study show significant amounts of variation in the resistance of streambank soils to fluvial erosion can be attributed to subaerial processes, specifically changes in soil moisture and temperature. These results have potential implications for streambank modeling and restoration projects that assume constant values for soil erodibility. Watershed models and restoration designs should consider the implications of changing soil erodibility during the year in model development and stream restoration designs.

freeze-thaw cycling, soil desiccation, streambank erosion, critical shear stress, soil erodibility