An analysis of channel head locations provides insight into controls on drainage density, the response of landscapes to climatic change, and the delineation of source areas for channel network simulations. Channel heads and colluvial deposits were mapped in a roughly 2 km2 area near San Francisco, California, and, although channel heads are located within colluvial deposits in hollows, many such deposits do not support channel heads. Channel heads were classified as either gradual or abrupt. For either type of channel head, the channel reach immediately downslope may be contiguous with the channel network or may consist of a series of short discontinuous channel segments. The local valley slope at the channel head is inversely related to both source area and source‐basin length as well as to the contributing area per unit contour length at the channel head. In contrast, valley slope does not vary with drainage area upslope of channel heads. Field observations and a similarity between predicted and observed area‐slope relations suggest that the location of channel heads on steep slopes may be controlled by subsurface flow‐induced instability of the colluvial fill. Preliminary field observations also suggest that abrupt channel heads on gentle slopes are controlled by seepage erosion, whereas gradual channel head locations appear to be governed by saturation overland flow. Consideration of the geometric relationship between source areas and the first‐order drainages that contain them results in an inverse relation between mean source‐basin length and drainage density.
Water Resources Research – Wiley
Published: Aug 1, 1989
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