Project

Monitoring Riverscapes

Goal: We have worked tirelessly to test and develop monitoring protocols for monitoring geomorphic and habitat changes in riverscapes.

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Project log

William Wallace Macfarlane
added a research item
In this report we present a conservation, restoration and monitoring plan for the streams and riparian areas of Dugout Ranch, Utah, owned and operated by The Nature Conservancy (TNC). The plan is intended to help guide conservation, restoration and management of the Dugout Ranch’s riverscapes (streams and riparian areas) over the next several decades and is also developed as an adaptive management plan to facilitate learning. The recommended conservation and restoration actions are intended to maintain and enhance native riparian vegetation and instream biota. Many terrestrial animals that use the riparian zone or migrate through the riverscape are also anticipated to benefit from the plan. The recommended conservation and restoration actions are based on the best available information regarding the current ecological and geomorphic conditions and restoration recovery potential as well as ranch management objectives. We prioritized reaches for conservation and restoration actions using condition assessment models, expert opinion and field observations. We recommend an experimental design for implementation of conservation and restoration actions. Combined with monitoring, the experimental design is aimed at identifying the most successful conservation and restoration actions for maintaining complex instream habitat and a healthy native riparian community.
Joseph M. Wheaton
added 2 research items
Restoration of riparian and wet meadow ecosystems in semi‐arid rangelands of the western U.S. is a high priority given their ecological and hydrological importance in the region. However, traditional restoration approaches are often intensive and costly, limiting the extent over which they can be applied. Practitioners are increasingly trying new restoration techniques that are more cost effective, less intensive, and can more practically scale up to the scope of degradation. Unfortunately, practitioners typically lack resources to undertake outcome‐based evaluations necessary to judge the efficacy of these techniques. In this study, we use freely‐available, satellite remote sensing to explore changes in vegetation productivity (NDVI) of three distinct, low‐tech riparian and wet meadow restoration projects. Case studies are presented that range in geographic location (Colorado, Oregon, and Nevada), restoration practice (Zeedyk structures, beaver dam analogs, and grazing management), and time since implementation. Restoration practices resulted in increased vegetation productivity of up to 25% and increased annual persistence of productive vegetation. Improvements in productivity with time since restoration suggest that elevated resilience may further enhance wildlife habitat and increase forage production. Long‐term, documented outcomes of conservation are rare; we hope our findings empower practitioners to further monitor and explore the use of low‐tech methods for restoration of ecohydrologic processes at meaningful spatial scales. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
William Wallace Macfarlane
added a research item
Environmental stressors associated with human land and water-use activities have degraded many riparian ecosystems across the western United States. These stressors include (i) the widespread expansion of invasive plant species that displace native vegetation and exacerbate streamflow and sediment regime alteration; (ii) agricultural and urban development in valley bottoms that decouple streams and rivers from their floodplains and reduce instream wood recruitment and retention; and (iii) flow modification that reduces water quantity and quality, degrading aquatic habitats. Here we apply a novel drainage network model to assess the impacts of multiple stressors on reach-scale riparian condition across two large U.S. regions. In this application, we performed a riparian condition assessment evaluating three dominant stressors: (1) riparian vegetation departure from historical condition; (2) land-use intensity within valley bottoms; and (3) floodplain fragmentation caused by infrastructure within valley bottoms, combining these stressors in a fuzzy inference system. We used freely available, geospatial data to estimate reach-scale (500 m) riparian condition for 52,800 km of perennial streams and rivers, 25,600 km in Utah, and 27,200 km in 12 watersheds of the interior Columbia River Basin (CRB). Model outputs showed that riparian condition has been at least moderately impaired across ≈70% of the streams and rivers in Utah and ≈49% in the CRB. We found 84% agreement (Cohen’s ĸ = 0.79) between modeled reaches and field plots, indicating that modeled riparian condition reasonably approximates on-the-ground conditions. Our approach to assessing riparian condition can be used to prioritize watershed-scale floodplain conservation and restoration by providing network-scale data on the extent and severity of riparian degradation. The approach that we applied here is flexible and can be expanded to run with additional riparian stressor data and/or finer resolution input data.
Private Profile
added a research item
Understanding the role of external controls on the morphology of braided rivers is currently limited by the dearth of robust metrics to quantify and distinguish the diversity of channel form. Most existing measures are strongly dependent on river stage and unable to account for the three-dimensional complexity that is apparent in digital terrain models of braided rivers. In this paper, we introduce a simple, stage-independent morphological indicator that enables the analysis of reach-scale regime morphology as a function of slope, discharge, sediment size, and degree of confinement. The index is derived from the bed elevation frequency distribution and characterizes a statistical width-depth curve averaged longitudinally over multiple channel widths. In this way, we define a "synthetic channel" described by a simple parameter that embeds information about the river morphological complexity. Under the assumption of uniform flow, this approach can be extended to provide estimates of the reach-averaged shear stress distribution, bed load flux, and at-a-station-variability of wetted width. We test this approach using data from a wide range of labile channels including 58 flume experiments and three gravel bed braided rivers. Results demonstrate a strong relationship between the unit discharge and the shape of the elevation distribution, which varies between a U shape for typical single-thread confined channels and a Y shape for multithread reaches. Finally, we discuss the use of the metric as a diagnostic index of river condition that may be used to support inferences about the river morphological trajectory.
Joseph M. Wheaton
added 41 research items
Advances in topographic survey and terrain modelling have enabled a revolution in the study in the fluvial morphodynamics in the last decade. Prior to the advent of electronic tacheometry in the 1990s, the analysis of channel dynamics was typically inferred from a combination of cross-section surveys and planform mapping. Distributed surveys acquired with GPS or EDMs enabled this analysis to be dimensionally extended and the pattern and magnitude morphodynamics elucidated in 3D; in particular through DTM differencing. Continuing developments in survey technology are now posed to reset this field once again. Now no longer confined to the laboratory, ruggedized laser scanners are capable of acquiring between 4-50,000 observations per second, at ranges exceeding 100 m. This latest development creates the potential for typical reach-scale (1-10 km) topographic datasets to rise in size by 7 orders of magnitude (hundreds to billions of points) in the coming years. Terrestrial Laser Scanning (TLS) offers a wealth of opportunities to better monitor fluvial systems; improving models of cut-and-fill, roughness and enhancing the prospect for ever more detailed parameterizations for fluid models. While this technology enables the creation of 'virtual facsimiles' of landscapes, the demands of storing, processing and modelling geomorphological products from such data requires a wholesale reappraisal of our data management and modelling methods. Here we outline a field-to-product methodology for TLS of fluvial systems using data from two annual surveys of a 1 km reach of the River Feshie, Scotland. These surveys delivered D point cloud datasets, incorporating over 200 million xyz observations, with median spatial densities of over 1000 pts/m2. The surveys were fixed to a GPS-based control network, including over 200 coincident tie- points to register multiple setups to a global coordinate system (RMS errors 0.002-0.011 m). Modelling reach-scale geometries from such dense point clouds poses a non-trivial computational problem and required the development of a bespoke spatial filtering toolbox. This was designed to allow intelligent decimation of TLS data and extract multi-resolution and statistical data suitable for describing bar-scale morphologies over the entire reach, whilst retaining grain-scale information. We use this toolbox to explore the precision and reliability of a morphological sediment budget for the study reach, following a 10 year flood in November 2006. The results are benchmarked against a traditional survey/DTM methodology based on GPS data.
[1] Previous flume-based research on braided channels has revealed four classic mechanisms that produce braiding: central bar development, chute cutoff, lobe dissection, and transverse bar conversion. The importance of these braiding mechanisms relative to other morphodynamic mechanisms in shaping braided rivers has not yet been investigated in the field. Here we exploit repeat topographic surveys of the braided River Feshie (UK) to explore the morphodynamic signatures of different mechanisms of change in sediment storage. Our results indicate that, when combined, the four classic braiding mechanisms do indeed account for the majority of volumetric change in storage in the study reach (61% total). Chute cutoff, traditionally thought of as an erosional braiding mechanism, appears to be the most common braiding mechanism in the study river, but was more the result of deposition during the construction of diagonal bars than it was the erosion of the chute. Three of the four classic mechanisms appeared to be largely net aggradational in nature, whereas secondary mechanisms (including bank erosion, channel incision, and bar sculpting) were primarily net erosional. Although the role of readily erodible banks in facilitating braiding is often conceptualized, we show that bank erosion is as or more important a mechanism in changes in sediment storage than most of the braiding mechanisms, and is the most important “secondary” mechanism (17% of total change). The results of this study provide one of the first field tests of the relative importance of braiding mechanisms observed in flume settings.
Joseph M. Wheaton
added an update
As a synthesis of our efforts in addressing key management questions about fish populations from habitat monitoring efforts (e.g. CHaMP), we recently published in ESPL.