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Watershed Controls and Tropical Cyclone-Induced Changes in River Hydraulic Geometry in Puerto Rico
  • Daniel B Wright,
  • Brian P Bledsoe
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Corresponding Author:yihan.li@wisc.edu

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Daniel B Wright
University of Wisconsin-Madison
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Brian P Bledsoe
University of Georgia
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At-a-station hydraulic geometry (AHG), which describes how channel width, depth, and velocity vary with discharge at a river cross section, has long been used to study fluvial processes. For example, identification of landscape and river reach drivers of hydraulic geometry can help to predict channel properties at ungaged sites and to understand channel responses to major floods. Most prior AHG studies have focused on mid-latitude, temperate regions. Tropical zones-including those affected by tropical cyclones (TCs)-have received less attention. This study analyzed spatial and temporal variability in hydraulic geometry at 24 stream gaging sites in Puerto Rico, and identified the watershed and river reach characteristics that correlate with each hydraulic geometry parameter. These characteristics were then used to build regression models of AHG parameters, with relatively high predictive power. The largest flood events from each site were found to cause systematic changes to AHG parameters; most of these floods were caused by major TCs. Upstream drainage area, average watershed elevation, watershed land cover and other characteristics were found to be significant predictors of AHG parameters. Reaches with steeper slopes were found to have limited lateral adjustability, which may reflect consolidated bank materials and valley confinement. Watersheds with high percentages of forested area showed greater changes in roughness but less vertical adjustability than more developed watersheds. These correlation results help inform whether river channel properties in Puerto Rico and similar environments are resistant to the forces of TC-induced flooding, and how these properties are affected by major floods.