Articles | Volume 18, issue 6
Research article
27 Jun 2014
Research article |  | 27 Jun 2014

Morphological, hydrological, biogeochemical and ecological changes and challenges in river restoration – the Thur River case study

M. Schirmer, J. Luster, N. Linde, P. Perona, E. A. D. Mitchell, D. A. Barry, J. Hollender, O. A. Cirpka, P. Schneider, T. Vogt, D. Radny, and E. Durisch-Kaiser

Abstract. River restoration can enhance river dynamics, environmental heterogeneity and biodiversity, but the underlying processes governing the dynamic changes need to be understood to ensure that restoration projects meet their goals, and adverse effects are prevented. In particular, we need to comprehend how hydromorphological variability quantitatively relates to ecosystem functioning and services, biodiversity as well as ground- and surface water quality in restored river corridors. This involves (i) physical processes and structural properties, determining erosion and sedimentation, as well as solute and heat transport behavior in surface water and within the subsurface; (ii) biogeochemical processes and characteristics, including the turnover of nutrients and natural water constituents; and (iii) ecological processes and indicators related to biodiversity and ecological functioning. All these aspects are interlinked, requiring an interdisciplinary investigation approach. Here, we present an overview of the recently completed RECORD (REstored CORridor Dynamics) project in which we combined physical, chemical, and biological observations with modeling at a restored river corridor of the perialpine Thur River in Switzerland. Our results show that river restoration, beyond inducing morphologic changes that reshape the river bed and banks, triggered complex spatial patterns of bank infiltration, and affected habitat type, biotic communities and biogeochemical processes. We adopted an interdisciplinary approach of monitoring the continuing changes due to restoration measures to address the following questions: How stable is the morphological variability established by restoration? Does morphological variability guarantee an improvement in biodiversity? How does morphological variability affect biogeochemical transformations in the river corridor? What are some potential adverse effects of river restoration? How is river restoration influenced by catchment-scale hydraulics and which feedbacks exist on the large scale? Beyond summarizing the major results of individual studies within the project, we show that these overarching questions could only be addressed in an interdisciplinary framework.