Similarity of stream width distributions across headwater systems

TitleSimilarity of stream width distributions across headwater systems
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsAllen, GH, Pavelsky, TM, Barefoot, EA, Lamb, MP, Butman, D, Tashie, A, Gleason, CJ
JournalNature Communications
Start Page610
Accession NumberKNZ001864

The morphology and abundance of streams control the rates of hydraulic and biogeochemical exchange between streams, groundwater, and the atmosphere. In large river systems, the relationship between river width and abundance is fractal, such that narrow rivers are proportionally more common than wider rivers. However, in headwater systems, where many biogeochemical reactions are most rapid, the relationship between stream width and abundance is unknown. To constrain this uncertainty, we surveyed stream hydromorphology (wetted width and length) in several headwater stream networks across North America and New Zealand. Here, we find a strikingly consistent lognormal statistical distribution of stream width, including a characteristic most abundant stream width of 32 ± 7 cm independent of discharge or physiographic conditions. We propose a hydromorphic model that can be used to more accurately estimate the hydromorphology of streams, with significant impact on the understanding of the hydraulic, ecological, and biogeochemical functions of stream networks.