Objective extraction of channel heads from high-resolution topographic data

Fiona J. Clubb*, Simon M. Mudd, David Milodowski, Martin D. Hurst, Louise J. Slater

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Fluvial landscapes are dissected by channels, and at their upstream termini are channel heads. Accurate reconstruction of the fluvial domain is fundamental to understanding runoff generation, storm hydrology, sediment transport, biogeochemical cycling, and landscape evolution. Many methods have been proposed for predicting channel head locations using topographic data, yet none have been tested against a robust field data set of mapped channel heads across multiple landscapes. In this study, four methods of channel head prediction were tested against field data from four sites with high-resolution DEMs: slopearea scaling relationships; two techniques based on landscape tangential curvature; and a new method presented here, which identifies the change from channel to hillslope topography along a profile using a transformed longitudinal coordinate system. Our method requires only two user-defined parameters, determined via independent statistical analysis. Slope-area plots are traditionally used to identify the fluvial-hillslope transition, but we observe no clear relationship between this transition and field-mapped channel heads. Of the four methods assessed, one of the tangential curvature methods and our new method most accurately reproduce the measured channel heads in all four field sites (Feather River CA, Mid Bailey Run OH, Indian Creek OH, Piedmont VA), with mean errors of -11, -7, 5, and -24 m and 34, 3, 12, and -58 m, respectively. Negative values indicate channel heads located upslope of those mapped in the field. Importantly, these two independent methods produce mutually consistent estimates, providing two tests of channel head locations based on independent topographic signatures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4283-4304
Number of pages22
JournalWater Resources Research
Volume50
Issue number5
Early online date28 Apr 2014
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jun 2014

Keywords

  • DIGITAL ELEVATION MODELS
  • SIERRA-NEVADA
  • EROSION THRESHOLDS
  • DRAINAGE NETWORKS
  • SOUTHEASTERN OHIO
  • PROFILE ANALYSIS
  • SURFACE
  • MORPHOLOGY
  • INITIATION
  • IDENTIFICATION

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