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Floodplain complexity and surface metrics: Influences of scale and geomorphology

Scown, M.W., Thoms, M.C., De Jager, N.R., 2015, Floodplain complexity and surface metrics: Influences of scale and geomorphology. Geomorphology, v 245, p 102-116. DOI:10.1016/j.geomorph.2015.05.024.


Many studies of fluvial geomorphology and landscape ecology examine a single river or landscape, thus lack generality, making it difficult to develop a general understanding of the linkages between landscape patterns and larger-scale driving variables. We examined the spatial complexity of eight floodplain surfaces in widely different geographic settings and determined how patterns measured at different scales relate to different environmental drivers. Floodplain surface complexity is defined as having highly variable surface conditions that are also highly organized in space. These two components of floodplain surface complexity were measured across multiple sampling scales from LiDAR-derived DEMs. The surface character and variability of each floodplain were measured using four surface metrics; namely, standard deviation, skewness, coefficient of variation, and standard deviation of curvature from a series of moving window analyses ranging from 50 to 1000 m in radius. The spatial organization of each floodplain surface was measured using spatial correlograms of the four surface metrics. Surface character, variability, and spatial organization differed among the eight floodplains; and random, fragmented, highly patchy, and simple gradient spatial patterns were exhibited, depending upon the metric and window size. Differences in surface character and variability among the floodplains became statistically stronger with increasing sampling scale (window size), as did their associations with environmental variables. Sediment yield was consistently associated with differences in surface character and variability, as were flow discharge and variability at smaller sampling scales. Floodplain width was associated with differences in the spatial organization of surface conditions at smaller sampling scales, while valley slope was weakly associated with differences in spatial organization at larger scales. A comparison of floodplain landscape patterns measured at different scales would improve our understanding of the role that different environmental variables play at different scales and in different geomorphic settings.

Spatial organization; Complex systems;  Floodplain geomorphology

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