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Geomorphic coupling and sediment connectivity in an alpine catchment - Exploring sediment cascades using graph theory

  • Through their relevance for sediment budgets and the sensitivity of geomorphic systems, geomorphic coupling and (sediment) connectivity represent important topics in geomorphology. Since the introduction of the systems perspective to physical geography by Chorley and Kennedy (1971), a catchment has been perceived as consisting of landscape elements (e.g. landforms, subcatchments) that are coupled by geomorphic processes through sediment transport. In this study, we present a novel application of mathematical graph theory to explore the network structure of coarse sediment pathways in a central alpine catchment. Numerical simulation models for rockfall, debris flows, and (hillslope and channel) fluvial processes are used to establish a spatially explicit graph model of sediment sources, pathways and sinks. The raster cells of a digital elevation model form the nodes of this graph, and simulated sediment trajectories represent the corresponding edges. Model results are validated by visual comparison with the field situation and aerialThrough their relevance for sediment budgets and the sensitivity of geomorphic systems, geomorphic coupling and (sediment) connectivity represent important topics in geomorphology. Since the introduction of the systems perspective to physical geography by Chorley and Kennedy (1971), a catchment has been perceived as consisting of landscape elements (e.g. landforms, subcatchments) that are coupled by geomorphic processes through sediment transport. In this study, we present a novel application of mathematical graph theory to explore the network structure of coarse sediment pathways in a central alpine catchment. Numerical simulation models for rockfall, debris flows, and (hillslope and channel) fluvial processes are used to establish a spatially explicit graph model of sediment sources, pathways and sinks. The raster cells of a digital elevation model form the nodes of this graph, and simulated sediment trajectories represent the corresponding edges. Model results are validated by visual comparison with the field situation and aerial photos. The interaction of sediment pathways, i.e. where the deposits of a geomorphic process form the sources of another process, forms sediment cascades, represented by paths (a succession of edges) in the graph model. We show how this graph can be used to explore upslope (contributing area) and downslope (source to sink) functional connectivity by analysing its nodes, edges and paths. The analysis of the spatial distribution, composition and frequency of sediment cascades yields information on the relative importance of geomorphic processes and their interaction (however regardless of their transport capacity). In the study area, the analysis stresses the importance of mass movements and their interaction, e.g. the linkage of large rockfall source areas to debris flows that potentially enter the channel network. Moreover, it is shown that only a small percentage of the study area is coupled to the channel network which itself is longitudinally disconnected by natural and anthropogenic barriers. Besides the case study, we discuss the methodological framework and alternatives for node and edge representations of graph models in geomorphology. We conclude that graph theory provides an excellent methodological framework for the analysis of geomorphic systems, especially for the exploration of quantitative approaches towards sediment connectivity.show moreshow less

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Metadaten
Author:Tobias Heckmann, Wolfgang Schwanghart
DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geomorph.2012.10.033
ISSN:0169-555X (print)
Parent Title (English):Geomorphology : an international journal on pure and applied geomorphology
Publisher:Elsevier
Place of publication:Amsterdam
Document Type:Article
Language:English
Year of first Publication:2013
Year of Completion:2013
Release Date:2017/03/26
Tag:Geomorphic coupling; Graph theory; Sediment cascades; Sediment connectivity
Volume:182
Issue:2
Pagenumber:15
First Page:89
Last Page:103
Funder:German Science Foundation (DFG) [HE 5747/1-1, -2]; Potsdam Research Cluster for Georisk Analysis, Environmental Change and Sustainability (PROGRESS)
Organizational units:Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Fakultät / Institut für Erd- und Umweltwissenschaften
Peer Review:Referiert