Local efficiency in fluvial systems: Lessons from Icicle Bend


Development of fluvial systems is often described and modeled in terms of principles related to maxima, minima, or optima of various hydraulic or energy parameters that can generally be encompassed by a principle of efficiency selection (more efficient flow routes tend to be preferentially selected and enhanced). However, efficiency selection is highly localized, and the cumulative effects of these local events may or may not produce more efficient pathways at a broader scale. This is illustrated by the case of Icicle Bend on Shawnee Run, a limestone bedrock stream in central Kentucky. Field evidence indicates that a paleochannel was abandoned during downcutting of the stream, and the relocation was analyzed using a flow partitioning model. The bend represents abandonment of a steeper, straighter, more efficient channel at the reach scale in favor of a longer, currently less steep and less efficient flow path. This apparently occurred owing to capture of Shawnee Run flow by a subsurface karst flow path that was subsequently exhumed. The development of Icicle Bend illustrates the local nature of efficiency selection and the role of historical contingency in geomorphic evolution.

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Bedrock streams, Efficiency selection, Flow paths, Fluviokarst

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