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Alluvial gully erosion: an example from the Mitchell fluvial megafan, Queensland, Australia

TitleAlluvial gully erosion: an example from the Mitchell fluvial megafan, Queensland, Australia
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2009
AuthorsBrooks, AP, Shellberg, JG, Knight, J, Spencer, J
Journal Earth Surface Processes and Landforms
Start Page1951
Date Published10/2009
Keywordsalluvial gully erosion, fluvial megafan, relative relief, remote sensing, sediment budget

Considerable attention has been focused on the role of gullies as a contributor to contemporary sediment loads of rivers in Australia. In southern Australia rapid acceleration of hillslope gully erosion has been widely documented in the post-European period ( last 200 years). In the northern Australian tropics, however, gully erosion processes operating along alluvial plains have not been well documented and can differ substantially from those gullies eroding into colluvium on hillslopes. Aerial reconnaissance surveys in 2004 along 13 500 km of the main stem rivers that drain into the Gulf of Carpentaria (GoC), identified extensive areas of alluvial lands that have been impacted by a pervasive form of gully erosion. More detailed remote sensing based mapping within the 31 000 km2 Mitchell River fluvial megafan has identified that active gullying into alluvium occupies 0·4% (129 km2) of the lower Mitchell catchment. These alluvial gullies are concentrated along main drainage channels and their scarp heights are highly correlated to the local relief between the floodplain and river thalweg. While river incision into the megafan since the Pleistocene has developed the relief potential for erosion, other factors such as floodplain hydrology, soil dispersibility, and vegetation also influence the distribution of gullies. In this paper we present a conceptual model of alluvial gullies, and contend that they represent a distinct end member in the continuum of gully forms that have been described in the geomorphic literature. An understanding of the processes driving this form of alluvial gullying can only be gained when they are differentiated from widely described colluvial hillslope gully models and theories. We present evidence of type examples of alluvial gullying in the Mitchell, and through analysis of their distribution and morphology at different scales, highlight some of the key mechanisms that are potentially initiating these features and driving their expansion.