An evaluation of surface flow types as a rapid measure of channel morphology for the geomorphic component of river condition assessments

Elisa Zavadil, Michael J Stewardson, Margot Turner, Anthony Richard Ladson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Riverine assessments of channel morphology and fluvial processes typically involve a time-consuming survey of channel cross sections and longitudinal profiles, expensive aerial imagery, and/or require specialised knowledge. As a result, geomorphic input is not widely included in multiparameter river condition assessments. We were interested in determining if surface flow type observations can be used as a rapid measure of channel morphology and then subsequently be used in river condition assessments to monitor channel change over time.We examined the relationship between flow types (e.g., rippled flow, no perceptible flow) and channel morphology. Two aspects of channel morphology were assessed: (i) within-reach depth variability and (ii) cross section geometry (e.g., width, area, Froude number). In a two-part study, each of these was correlated with flow type diversity for a range of study sites from upland and lowland environments in Victoria, Australia. We found that an increased diversity of flow types correlated with greater depth diversity, based on the coefficient of variation of depth along a reach. Flow types also correlated well with the cross-sectional Froude number, but less so with other geometric parameters. The proportion of flow types present was also notably sensitive to discharge within the low flow range examined (70-99 flow exceedance).Three geo-topes - cross section units of a dominant flow type - were found to be the most physically distinct units at this cross section scale; no perceptible flow (deadwater), smooth boundary turbulent (glide), and rippled flow (run/riffle). Rippled flow is a revision to previous run/riffle classifications and is identified by the presence of unbroken waves of any size with crests moving in a general downstream direction.Our findings indicate that flow types can provide indicative information on channel morphology along a reach. When assessed at low flow levels, the diversity of flow types reflects the variability of cross-sectional geometry and also the diversity of the channel bed (depth). On this basis, the inclusion of flow type observations in river condition assessments can provide meaningful information on channel morphology, in a rapid and repeatable way. With repeat surveys, flow types could be used as a geomorphic metric to track changes in morphologic diversity over time, including changes associated with processes of sediment transport, scour, and deposition at a reach.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303 - 312
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2012

Cite this