Articles | Volume 14, issue 2
26 Feb 2010
 | 26 Feb 2010

Reading the bed morphology of a mountain stream: a geomorphometric study on high-resolution topographic data

S. Trevisani, M. Cavalli, and L. Marchi

Abstract. High-resolution topographic data expand the potential of quantitative analysis of the earth surface, improving the interpretation of geomorphic processes. In particular, the morphologies of the channel beds of mountain streams, which are characterised by strong spatial variability, can be analysed much more effectively with this type of data. In this study, we analysed the aerial LiDAR topographic data of a headwater stream, the Rio Cordon (watershed area: 5 km2), located in the Dolomites (north-eastern Italy). The morphology of the channel bed of Rio Cordon is characterised by alternating step pools, cascades, and rapids with steps. We analysed the streambed morphology by means of ad hoc developed morphometric indices, capable of highlighting morphological features at a high level of spatial resolution. To perform the analysis and the data interpolation, we carried out a channel-oriented coordinate transformation. In the new coordinate system, the calculation of morphometric indices in directions along and transverse to the flow direction is straightforward. Three geomorphometric indices were developed and applied as follows: a slope index computed on the whole width of the channel bed, directional variograms computed along the flow direction and perpendicular to it, and local anomalies, calculated as the difference between directional variograms at different spatial scales. Directional variograms in the flow direction and local anomalies have proven to be effective at recognising morphologic units, such as steps, pools and clusters of large boulders. At the spatial scale of channel reaches, these indices have demonstrated a satisfactory capability to outline patterns associated with boulder cascades and rapids with steps, whereas they did not clearly differentiate between morphologies with less marked morphological differences, such as step pools and cascades.