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Streambeds merit recognition as a scientific discipline

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Streambeds are generally viewed as simply sediments beneath streams, sediments topping alluvial aquifers, or sediments housing aquatic life, rather than as distinct geographic features comparable to soils and surficial geologic materials within watersheds. Streambeds should be viewed as akin to soils. Specifically, soils are often described as surficial sediments created largely by atmospheric weathering of underlying geologic parent material. Similarly, streambeds should be described as submerged sediments created largely by streamflow modification of underlying geologic parent material. Streambeds are overdue for recognition as their own scientific discipline alongside numerous other well‐recognized disciplines within watersheds. The point is stated that hyporheic zones are regularly considered comparable to streambeds, but this is as misguided as equating unsaturated zones to soils. Streambeds and soils are physical geographic features of relatively constant volume, while hyporheic and unsaturated zones are hydrologic features of varying volume. This opinion piece suggests Streambed Science as the proposed discipline, requiring well‐designed protocols to physically characterize streambeds and develop streambed taxonomy for suitable recognition. WIREs Water 2016, 3:13–18. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1119 This article is categorized under: Science of Water > Methods
View of a watershed with a stream flowing from the headwaters. Note various features and activities on the hillslopes and beneath the ground that formed the basis of numerous scientific fields, with the central exception being the streambed and related buried ‘paleostreambeds.’
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(a) Trenched soil profiles and (b) stream view showing pervasive and persistent challenges in determining streambed profiles, highlighting submerged conditions with partially buried rocks.
[ Normal View | Magnified View ]

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