Historical variability and feedbacks among land cover, stream power, and channel geometry along the lower Canadian River floodplain in Oklahoma

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In 1820, the lower Canadian River meandered through a densely forested floodplain. By 1898, most of the floodplain had been cleared for agriculture and changes in channel geometry and specific stream power followed, particularly channel widening and straightening with a lower potential specific stream power. In 1964, a large upstream hydropower dam was constructed, which changed the flow regime in the lower Canadian River and consequently the channel geometry. Without destructive overbank floods, the channel narrowed rapidly and considerably due to encroachment by floodplain vegetation. The lower Canadian River, which was once a highly dynamic floodplain-river system, has now been transformed into a relatively static river channel. These changes over the past 200 years have not been linear or independent. In this article, we use a variety of data sources to assess these historical changes along the lower Canadian River floodplain and identify feedbacks among floodplain cultivation, dam construction, specific stream power, and channel width, slope, and sinuosity. Finally, we combine the results of our study with others in the region to present a biogeomorphic response model for large Great Plains rivers that characterizes channel width changes in response to climate variability and anthropogenic disturbances.

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