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Automatic delineation of functional river reach boundaries for river research and applications

Parker, Chris; Clifford, Nicholas; Thorne, Colin


Chris Parker
Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography

Nicholas Clifford

Colin Thorne


The river reach is a pervasive term within contemporary river research and applications. Yet, despite its prevalence, there is a notable lack of consistency in its definition. This paper identifies the presence of two broad types of reach definition within the academic literature, operational and functional, and argues that a functional definition is more suitable for applications within river research and management. A range of sequence zonation algorithms that were originally derived for geological well-log analysis were compared for their ability to automatically identify functional reach boundaries. An analysis of variance-based global boundary hunting algorithm was identified as the most suitable. To demonstrate the potential practical applications of automatic reach delineation methods, two case studies where functional reach boundaries have been identified were described: first, in a sequence of predicted sediment transport capacities for use in a reach-based sediment transport model; and second, in a sequence of RHS Habitat Quality Assessment scores for identification of lengths of channel in need of habitat restoration efforts. Finally, the paper discusses how this type of functional reach identification procedure might be applied in other areas of river research and applications and how a multivariate version of a statistical zonation algorithm might prove useful in facilitating integrated catchment management by identifying reach boundaries common across all variables of interest in the system. © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


Thorne, C. R., Clifford, N. J., Parker, C., Parker, C., Clifford, N., & Thorne, C. (2012). Automatic delineation of functional river reach boundaries for river research and applications. River Research and Applications, 28(10), 1708-1725.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Dec 1, 2012
Journal River Research and Applications
Print ISSN 1535-1467
Electronic ISSN 1535-1467
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 28
Issue 10
Pages 1708-1725
Keywords river management, reach, zonation, boundary hunting, integrated catchment management, sediment transport, ST:REAM, RHS
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What is a reach - Paper - Original Submission.doc (3.3 Mb)

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