Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Watershed Sciences

Committee Chair(s)

Patrick Belmont


Patrick Belmont


Sarah Null


Peter Wilcock


Joel Pederson


David Tarboton


Environmental scientists increasingly use remotely-sensed images to measure how rivers develop over time and respond to upstream changes in environmental drivers such as land use, urbanization, deforestation and agricultural practices. These measurements are subject to uncertainty that can bias conclusions. The first step towards accurate interpretation of river channel change is properly quantifying and accounting for uncertainty involved in measuring changes in river morphology. In Chapter 2 we develop a comprehensive framework for quantifying uncertainty in measurements of river change derived from aerial images. The framework builds upon previous uncertainty research by describing best practices and context-specific strategies, comparing each approach and outlining how to best handle measurements that fall below the minimum level of detection. We use this framework in subsequent chapters to reduce the impact of erroneous measurements. Chapter 3 evaluates how the time interval between aerial images influences the rates at which river channels appear to laterally migrate across their floodplains. Multiple lines of evidence indicate that river migration measurements obtained over longer time intervals (20+ years) will underestimate the ‘true’ rate because the river channel is more likely to have reversed the direction of migration, which erases part of the record of gross erosion as seen from aerial images. If the images don’t capture channel reversals and periodic episodes of fast erosion, the river appears to have migrated a shorter distance (which corresponds to a slower rate) than reality. Obtaining multiple measurements over shorter time intervals (< 5 years) and limiting direct comparisons to similar time intervals can reduce bias when inferring how river migration rates may have changed over time. Chapter 4 explores the physical processes governing the relationship between river curvature and the rate of river migration along a series of meander bends. We used fine-scale empirical measurements and geospatial analyses to confirm theory and models indicating that migration and curvature exhibit a monotonic relationship. The results will improve models seeking to emulate river meander migration patterns.