Log jam

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Log jam on the Quinault River, Washington, United States

A log jam is an accumulation of large wood (commonly defined as pieces of wood more than 10 cm (4 in) in diameter and more than 1 m (3 ft 3 in) long[1] also commonly called large woody debris) that can span an entire stream or river channel.

Historically in North America, large "log rafts" were common across the continent prior to European settlement.[2] The most famous natural wood raft is the Great Raft on the Red River in Louisiana, which prior to its removal in the 1830s affected between 390 and 480 km (240–300 mi) of the main channel.[3] It has been suggested that such extensive log rafts may have been common in Europe in prehistory.[4]

Effects on river geomorphology[edit]

Log jam in Goodell Creek, Washington

Log jams alter flow hydraulics by diverting flow towards the bed or banks, increasing flow resistance and creating upstream pools, diverting flow onto the floodplain and damming the channel causing water to spill over the structure.[5][6] These altered channel hydraulics change local patterns of erosion and deposition, which can create greater variety in local geomorphology and thus create provision and variety of habitat for instream living organisms.[7] The formation of a log jam against one bank typically concentrates flow in the wood-free portion of the channel, increasing velocity through this section and promoting scour of the riverbed, the formation of channel-spanning log jams can lead to the formation of an upstream pool, water spilling over the structure generating a "plunge pool" immediately downstream.[8]

The hydraulic and geomorphological effects of log jams are highly dependent on the slope of the river (and thus the potential power of the stream); in steep channels, log jams tend to form channel-spanning steplike structures with an associated downstream scour pool,[9] whereas, in large lowland rivers with low slopes, log jams tend to be partial structures primarily acting to deflect flow with minimal geomorphological change.[10]

Effects on ecology[edit]

Log jams provide important fish habitat. The pools created and sediment deposited by formation of log jams create prime spawning grounds for many species of salmon. These pools also provide refuge for fish during low water levels when other parts of a stream may be nearly dry. Log jams can provide refuge, as velocity shelters, during high-flow periods.

It has been suggested that log jams are part of trees acting as ecosystem engineers to alter river habitats to promote tree growth.[11] In dynamic braided rivers, such as the Tagliamento River in Italy where the dominant tree species is black poplar, fallen trees form log jams when they are deposited on bars, fine sediment is deposited around these log jams and sprouting seedlings are able to stabilise braid bars and promote the formation of stable islands in the river. These stable islands are then prime areas for establishment of seedlings and further vegetation growth, which in turn can eventually provide more fallen trees to the river and thus form more log jams.[12]

In large rivers in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, it has been shown there is a lifecycle of tree growth and river migration, with large trees falling into the channel as banks erode, then staying in place and acting as focal points for log jam formation. These log jams act as hard points resisting further erosion and channel migration. The areas of floodplain behind these log jams then become stable enough for more large trees to grow which in turn can potentially be log jam anchor points in the future.[13]

Metaphorical usage[edit]

"Logjam" or "log jam" can be used metaphorically to mean "deadlock" or "impasse." It can either be used more literally, to mean a physical impasse, or more metaphorically, to mean an impasse in a process due to differing opinions, legal or technical issues, etc.[14] Here are two example sentences:

  • "The presence of an ambulance on the side of the highway created a logjam of rubberneckers who just had to have a look" - more literal
  • "He was called in to try to break the logjam in the negotiations" - more metaphorical

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wohl, Ellen (April 2010). "Large in-stream wood studies: a call for common metrics". Earth Surface Processes and Landforms. 35 (5): 618–625. doi:10.1002/esp.1966.
  2. ^ Wohl, Ellen (2014). "A legacy of absence: Wood removal in US rivers". Progress in Physical Geography. 38 (5): 637–663. doi:10.1177/0309133314548091.
  3. ^ Wohl, Ellen (2014). "A legacy of absence: Wood removal in US rivers". Progress in Physical Geography. 38 (5): 637–663. doi:10.1177/0309133314548091.
  4. ^ Montgomery, D.R.; Collins, B.D.; Buffington, J.M.; Abbe, T.B. (2003). "Geomorphic effects of wood in rivers". The Ecology and Management of Wood in World Rivers: 21–47.
  5. ^ Abbe, T.B.; Montgomery, D.R. (1996). "Large woody debris jams, channel hydraulics and habitat formation in large rivers". Regulated Rivers Research & Management. 12 (23): 201–221. doi:10.1002/(sici)1099-1646(199603)12:2/3<201::aid-rrr390>3.3.co;2-1.
  6. ^ Manners, R.B.; Doyle, M.W.; Small, M.J. (2007). "Structure and hydraulics of natural woody debris jams". Water Resources Research. 43 (6). doi:10.1029/2006WR004910.
  7. ^ Gurnell, A.M.; Gregory, K.J.; Petts, G.E. (1995). "The role of coarse woody debris in forest aquatic habitats: Implications for management". Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems. 5 (2): 143–166. doi:10.1002/aqc.3270050206.
  8. ^ Dixon, S.J. (2015). "A dimensionless statistical analysis of logjam form and process". Ecohydrology. 9 (6): 1117–1129. doi:10.1002/eco.1710.
  9. ^ Curran, J.C.; Wohl, E.E. (2003). "Large woody debris and flow resistance in step-pool channels, Cascade Range, Washington". Geomorphology. 51 (1–3): 141–157. doi:10.1016/S0169-555X(02)00333-1.
  10. ^ Shields, F.D.; Gippel, C.J. (1995). "Prediction of effects of woody debris removal on flow resistance". Journal of Hydraulic Engineering. 121 (4): 341–354. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)0733-9429(1995)121:4(341).
  11. ^ Gurnell, A.M. (2014). "Plants as river system engineers". Earth Surface Processes and Landforms. 39 (1): 4–25. doi:10.1002/esp.3397.
  12. ^ Gurnell, A.M.; Petts, G.E. (2006). "Trees as riparian engineers: The Tagliamento River, Italy". Earth Surface Processes and Landforms. 31 (12): 1558–1574. doi:10.1002/esp.1342.
  13. ^ Collins, B.D.; Montgomery, D.R; Fetherston, K.L.; Abbe, T.B. (2012). "The floodplain large-wood cycle hypothesis: A mechanism for the physical and biotic structuring of temperate forested alluvial valleys in the North Pacific coastal ecoregion". Geomorphology. 139-140: 460–470. doi:10.1016/j.geomorph.2011.11.011.
  14. ^ https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/logjam