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The pernicious problem of streambed colmation: a multi‐disciplinary reflection on the mechanisms, causes, impacts, and management challenges

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The accumulation of fine sediments in rivers is a pernicious problem with wide‐ranging consequences for the healthy functioning of rivers throughout the world. It is linked to a range of landuse changes and human activities that have increased sediment inputs leading to elevated fine sediment loads that exceed the sediment transport capacities of rivers. Surficial deposits of fine material can also create the conditions for fine sediment to move into and accumulate within the coarser bed substrate, a process known as colmation and the focus of this review. Colmation, also referred to as clogging, fine sediment infiltration, fine sediment deposition, ingress, infilling, intrusion of fines, siltation, and the surface–subsurface exchange of particles, is particularly damaging to river habitats and ecosystems. It causes degradation through the physical effects of reduced porosity and flow connectivity and the biogeochemical changes arising from the hydraulic and hydrological impacts and the effects of sediment‐bound contaminants, all of which can impact on river ecology. Different aspects of the phenomenon of colmation have been studied across a number of disciplines and over several decades and this paper synthesizes this wide literature to provide a multidisciplinary perspective on the mechanisms, causes, and impacts of colmation and discusses some key management challenges. WIREs Water 2017, 4:e1231. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1231 This article is categorized under: Water and Life > Stresses and Pressures on Ecosystems Science of Water > Water Quality
Surficial fine sediments can create the conditions for streambed colmation (Photo: Lin Baldock).
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Summary of the main causes, controls, and impacts of streambed colmation.
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Conceptual diagram showing the mechanisms of colmation and decolmation.
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