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Island dynamics in a braided river from analysis of historical maps and air photographs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Luca Zanoni, Angela Gurnell, Nicholas Drake, Nicola Surian

Original languageEnglish
Article numberN/A
Pages (from-to)1141-1159
Number of pages19
Issue number8
PublishedOct 2008

King's Authors


An analysis of island and active corridor dynamics is presented for a 16 kill island-braided reach of the gravel-bed Tagliamento River (Italy) based upon information extracted, geocorrected and registered to a common base front three map (1803, 1833, 1927) and nine aerial photograph sources (1944/6, 1954, 1970, 1986, 1991, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2005).

The active corridor width showed a general decline over the study period but with some recent widening. Adjustments in active corridor width were achieved through processes of floodplain avulsion, island attachment and progressive encroachment of the edge of the active corridor across gravel areas. These adjustments were accompanied by the preferential creation of dissection (floodplain avulsion) islands during periods of widening and the construction of mid islands within the corridor during periods of narrowing. Changes in island extent were achieved by rapid island turnover, which reached a maximum rate of over 50% per annum when corridor narrowing was most rapid between 1970 and 1991. Very few island surfaces were found to persist for more than 24 years.

Despite this enormous dynamism and apparent cyclic behaviour, between 1944/6 and 2005 the ratio of island area to active corridor area remained relatively constant at around 0.08 and supported a consistently high bankfull shoreline to downstream length ratio of around 6 km . km(-1). These intrinsic properties of the dynamics of the study reach and other island-braided channels need to be recognized and maintained by river managers because they represent a characteristic habitat dynamism that is crucial to the maintenance of ecological integrity.

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