Quantifying river channel stability at the basin scale

Philip Soar, Nicholas Wallerstein, Colin Thorne

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    This paper examines the feasibility of a basin‐scale scheme for characterising and quantifying river reaches in terms of their geomorphological stability status and potential for morphological adjustment based on auditing stream energy. A River Energy Audit Scheme (REAS) is explored, which involves integrating stream power with flow duration to investigate the downstream distribution of Annual Geomorphic Energy (AGE). This measure represents the average annual energy available with which to perform geomorphological work in reshaping the channel boundary. Changes in AGE between successive reaches might indicate whether adjustments are likely to be led by erosion or deposition at the channel perimeter. A case study of the River Kent in Cumbria, UK, demonstrates that basin‐wide application is achievable without excessive field work and data processing. However, in addressing the basin scale, the research found that this is inevitably at the cost of a number of assumptions and limitations, which are discussed herein. Technological advances in remotely sensed data capture, developments in image processing and emerging GIS tools provide the near‐term prospect of fully quantifying river channel stability at the basin scale, although as yet not fully realized. Potential applications of this type of approach include system‐wide assessment of river channel stability and sensitivity to land‐use or climate change, and informing strategic planning for river channel and flood risk management.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number133
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 17 Feb 2017


    • RCUK
    • EPSRC
    • GR/S76304/01
    • NERC
    • river channel stabilty
    • stream power
    • geomorphic energy
    • sediment transport
    • morphological change
    • Fluvial Audit
    • drainage basin scale
    • watershed assessment
    • flood risk management
    • river restoration


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