The importance of high-resolution monitoring in erosion and deposition dynamics studies: examples from estuarine and fluvial systems

Damian Lawler

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48 Citations (Scopus)


Erosion and deposition processes lie at the centre of geomorphological explanation, but progress in understanding has been limited by a lack of appropriate high-resolution monitoring methodologies which permit detection of erosion and deposition dynamics. This paper presents a case for monitoring erosion and deposition at high temporal resolutions, and uses hypothetical approaches supported by example erosion and deposition events and analyses drawn from estuarine and fluvial systems. The paper first presents testable hypotheses to demonstrate the complexity of possible event combinations, sequences and juxtapositions for the erosion driving forces which underpin the need for high-resolution monitoring. Second, it summarises recent improvements to the Photo-Electronic Erosion Pin (PEEP) automatic erosion and deposition monitoring system, including the novel concept of Thermal Consonance Timing (TCT), which is particularly promising because it helps to define the timing of nocturnal events and through the entire hydrograph. Third, example results are discussed from high-resolution monitoring of bank erosion at a tidal site at Burringham on the River Trent in northern England. Tidal banks are revealed to be much more dynamic than previous conventional monitoring has indicated. A key result is that, because the high-resolution approach allows erosional and depositional activity to be assigned to specific periods of tidal inundation, it becomes possible for the first time routinely to produce 'event-based' erosion (36 mm h(-1)) and deposition rates (4.5 and 8.4 mm h(-1)). Such rate determinations are potentially very useful in the field validation of sedimentological and geomorphological models, including grain settling and resuspension theory. Fourth, through a longer term of aggregated daily data, a striking 2-week cycle of deposition and erosion emerges which correlates most strongly with spring-neap tidal cycling, but is moderated by wind stress effects. Sediment was deposited on the bank relatively quickly, over 4-5 days, but then removed by erosion rather slowly, over 9-10 days. Fifth, the dangers of low-resolution monitoring are illustrated by comparing the daily PEEP data set with a series resampled at a lower (14-day) frequency, to simulate the information generated by conventional resurvey methodologies. The low-frequency series failed adequately to represent the cyclicity, mean, range, variability and trend of bank elevation changes, and without this dynamics information, rate and process definition is very difficult, largely because of self-concealing activity. Sixth, a useful advance is illustrated by the fluvial erosion sequence for the River Wharfe (N. England). This shows how TCT can generate rare and important results with the definition of the precise time of an erosion event within the hydrograph: bank retreat here occurred very quickly, after initial inundation, and within 4 h of the flow peak-in formation which can be used to define thresholds for entrainment (e.g. critical shear stresses). Such high-resolution monitoring helps to unravel some of the erosional effects of complex sequences, combinations and juxtapositions of similar or different forcing events. Finally, high-resolution approaches have been adopted worldwide for fluvial, estuarine, mudflat and canal systems, but considerable potential exists for their development and use in these and other contexts (e.g. gully, hillslope, beach and dune environments), to improve understanding and modelling of geomorphological processes more widely. (C) 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jan 2005


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