Title

Channel and Island Change in the Lower Platte River, Eastern Nebraska, USA: 1855–2005

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

5-8-2008

Keywords

river planform change, Platte River, Nebraska, island stabilization, anabranches

Abstract

The lower Platte River has undergone considerable change in channel and bar characteristics since the mid-1850s in four 20–25 km-long study stretches. The same net effect of historical channel shrinkage that was detected upstream from Grand Island, Nebraska, can also be detected in the lower river but differences in the behaviors of study stretches upstream and downstream from major tributaries are striking. The least relative decrease occurred downstream from the Loup River confluence, and the stretch downstream from the Elkhorn River confluence actually showed an increase in channel area during the 1940s. Bank erosion was also greater downstream of the tributaries between ca. 1860 and 1938/1941, particularly in stretch RG, which showed more lateral migration. The cumulative island area and the ratio of island area to channel area relative to the 1938/1941 baseline data showed comparatively great fluctuations in median island size in both downstream stretches. The erratic behavior of island size distributions over time indicates that large islands were accreted to the banks at different times, and that some small, newly-stabilized islands were episodically “flushed” out of the system. In the upstream stretches the stabilization of mobile bars to create new, small islands had a more consistent impact over time. Channel decrease by the abandonment of large, long-lived anabranches and by the in-place narrowing resulting from island accretion were more prominent in these upstream stretches. Across all of the study area, channel area appears to be stabilizing gradually as the rate of decrease lessens. This trend began earliest in stretch RG in the late 1950s and was accompanied by shifts in the size distributions of stabilized islands in that stretch into the 1960s. Elsewhere, even in the easternmost study stretch, stabilizing was occurring by the late 1960s, the same time frame documented by investigations of the Platte system upstream of the study area. Comprehensive management plans for the lower Platte River should account, at least in theory, for the observed differences in stream behavior upstream and downstream of the major eastern tributaries.

Publication Title

Geomorphology

Volume

102

Issue

3-4

First Page

407

Last Page

418

DOI of Published Version

10.1016/j.geomorph.2008.04.016

Publisher

Elsevier

Rights

© 2008 Elsevier B.V.