Dramatic undercutting of piedmont rivers after the 2008 Wenchuan Ms 8.0 Earthquake

Sci Rep. 2016 Nov 18;6:37108. doi: 10.1038/srep37108.


Changes in river channel erosion or deposition affect the geomorphic evolution, aquatic ecosystems, and river regulation strategies. Fluvial processes are determined by the flow, sediment and boundary conditions, and it has long been expected that increasing sediment supply will induce aggradation. Here, based on thorough field surveys, we show the unexpected undercutting of the piedmont rivers influenced by the 2008 Wenchuan (Ms 8.0) Earthquake. The rivers flow from the Longmen Mountain with significant topographic relief to the flat Chengdu plain. In the upstreams, sediment supply increased because of the landslides triggered by the earthquake, causing deposition in the upstream mountain reaches. However, the downstream plain reaches suffered undercutting instead of deposition, and among those rivers, Shiting River was the most seriously affected, with the largest undercutting depth exceeding 20 m. The reasons for this unexpected undercutting are proposed herein and relate to both natural and anthropogenic causes. In addition, we also demonstrate, at least for certain conditions, such as rivers flowing from large-gradient mountain regions to low-gradient plain regions, that upstream sediment pulses may induce aggradation in upstream and degradation in downstream, causing the longitudinal profile to steepen to accommodate the increasing sediment flux.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't