Articles | Volume 18, issue 12
Research article
05 Dec 2014
Research article |  | 05 Dec 2014

Quantifying river form variations in the Mississippi Basin using remotely sensed imagery

Z. F. Miller, T. M. Pavelsky, and G. H. Allen

Abstract. Geographic variations in river form are often estimated using the framework of downstream hydraulic geometry (DHG), which links spatial changes in discharge to channel width, depth, and velocity through power-law models. These empirical relationships are developed from limited in situ data and do not capture the full variability in channel form. Here, we present a data set of 1.2 ×106 river widths in the Mississippi Basin measured from the Landsat-derived National Land Cover Dataset that characterizes width variability observationally. We construct DHG for the Mississippi drainage by linking digital elevation model (DEM)-estimated discharge values to each width measurement. Well-developed DHG exists over the entire Mississippi Basin, though individual sub-basins vary substantially from existing width–discharge scaling. Comparison of depth predictions from traditional depth–discharge relationships with a new model incorporating width into the DHG framework shows that including width improves depth estimates by, on average, 24%. Results suggest that channel geometry derived from remotely sensed imagery better characterizes variability in river form than do estimates based on DHG.

Short summary
Many previous studies have used stream gauge data to estimate patterns of river width and depth based on variations in river discharge. However, these relationships may not capture all of the actual variability in width and depth. We have instead mapped the widths of all of the rivers wider than 100 m (and many narrower) in the Mississippi Basin and then used them to also improve estimates of depth as well. Our results show width and depth variations not captured by power-law relationships.