US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Geomorphology 68 (2005) 149–166 doi:10.1016/j.geomorph.2004.11.019


This study examines the development of a conceptual model of sediment processes in the upper Yuba River watershed; and we hypothesize how components of the conceptual model may be spatially distributed using a geographical information system (GIS). The conceptual model illustrates key processes controlling sediment dynamics in the upper Yuba River watershed and was tested and revised using field measurements, aerial photography, and low elevation videography. Field reconnaissance included mass wasting and channel storage inventories, assessment of annual channel change in upland tributaries, and evaluation of the relative importance of sediment sources and transport processes. Hillslope erosion rates throughout the study area are relatively low when compared to more rapidly eroding landscapes such as the Pacific Northwest and notable hillslope sediment sources include highly erodible andesitic mudflows, serpentinized ultramafics, and unvegetated hydraulic mine pits. Mass wasting dominates surface erosion on the hillslopes; however, erosion of stored channel sediment is the primary contributor to annual sediment yield. We used GIS to spatially distribute the components of the conceptual model and created hillslope erosion potential and channel storage models. The GIS models exemplify the conceptual model in that landscapes with low potential evapotranspiration, sparse vegetation, steep slopes, erodible geology and soils, and high road densities display the greatest hillslope erosion potential and channel storage increases with increasing stream order. In-channel storage in upland tributaries impacted by hydraulic mining is an exception. Reworking of stored hydraulic mining sediment in low-order tributaries continues to elevate upper Yuba River sediment yields. Finally, we propose that spatially distributing the components of a conceptual model in a GIS framework provides a guide for developing more detailed sediment budgets or numerical models making it an inexpensive way to develop a roadmap for understanding sediment dynamics at a watershed scale.