The River Research Group at the University of Oregon has strengths in river restoration, river environment monitoring and modeling, watershed hydrology and geomorphology, human-river interrelationships, and theoretical fluvial science. Some of our current and past projects are below.

Current Projects

Channel Restoration Monitoring, Middle Fork John Day River, Oregon

A stronghold for wild salmon, the Middle Fork of the John Day River (MFJD) has been affected by historical gold mining, overgrazing by cattle, channel armoring and straightening, and riparian vegetation reduction. FoIMG_9335 - Copy2r several decades it has been a priority basin for aquatic habitat restoration, and a number of channel restoration projects (engineered log jams, removal of rip-rap and rock structures, planting of woody vegetation on the banks and floodplain, and channel re-meandering) have been completed and are planned. Since 2008 we have been monitoring the effectiveness of these restoration projects in terms of geomorphology and physical habitat. (Other groups are monitoring other aspects of the restoration, including fish, aquatic macroinvertebrates, and water temperature.)
We have two main research goals.
• To understand the degree to which the restoration projects have achieved their ecological goals, and to understand why or why not. We are particularly interested in providing results that can inform the next generation of restoration work on the MFJD and other similar rivers.
• To develop cost-effective methods for river monitoring using new technology such as LiDAR, tablet computers, UAVs, structure-from-motion photogrammetry, and high-resolution aerial imagery.
Through repeat measurements, channel change following project construction is monitored. Monitoring techniques used in the MFJD include the following:
• Channel cross-section morphology (erosion/aggradation, W:D, incision)
• Bed material characteristics (surface and volumetric gravel counts, D50, D95, % fines, embeddedness, armoring)
• Channel planform characteristics (sinuosity, lateral migration)
• Longitudinal profile change
• Fish cover
• Pool frequency and depth
• Log structure morphology and channel effects (difference of DEM survey)
We conduct field work for several weeks each summer. The overall monitoring effort is directed by the MFJD Intensively Monitored Watershed program. Funding has been provided by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, NOAA, and the Confederated tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation.
(McDowell [faculty research], Goslin [PhD dissertation])

Willamette River Fieldwork in Support of NASA SWOT and AirSWOT

Sonar-based bathymetric mapping and hydraulic modeling of the Willamette River provides vital information that has been used to test estimates made by NASA’s AirSWOT instrument, a test instrument used to evaluate the SWOT satellite scheduled for launch in 2AirSWOT020. SWOT (Surface Water Ocean Topography) will map the extent and dynamics of earth’s surface water around the globe every 22 days. Algorithms for mapping river depth and discharge are being tested in different basins around the world, but the Willamette is a primary test basin for midlatitude river systems. (Fonstad [faculty research], Zettler-Mann [student research])

Dynamics of Large River Channel Change, Willamette River, Oregon

DCIM100GOPROThis research centers on the historical changes in Willamette River morphology, sediment transport, hydraulics and hydrology, and the interactions of these with near-channel riparian and floodplain areas. One of the goals is to understand the geomorphic effects of management strategies on the river, such as dam operations and channel bank armoring. Techniques include aerial imagery and Lidar-based analysis, sediment measurements on channel bars, modeling of hydraulics and sediment transport, and remote-sensing and sonar-based bathymetric mapping. (Fonstad [faculty research])

Human-River Interactions in Megafan Settings, India

platef-19This project focuses on understanding the linkages between structural geometry, morphometric variability, erosional and depositional processes and the scale of human interference that relates to the instability of channels in three megafan settings in actively aggrading basins of the Himalayan mountain front. One of the goals is to map the extent of floodplain disconnection across these megafans. Primary tools in this effort include the use of geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing and easily obtainable topographic and climate data. This ongoing work will have important implications for the understanding of the spatial variability of water-logging and regional flood hazard. (Goswami [PhD dissertation])

Social Construction of Floodplains in the United States

This research aims to gain a better understanding of the actors who can enact change on Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) in the United States National Flood Insurance Programs (NFIP) and the relationship between socio-economic factors and successful changes. While all changes in updating FIRM flood zones must be approved by technical experts, proposed changes can be initiated by technical experts or property owners and other community members. But the relative influence of technical expert versus property owner-initiated change in the program is unknown. The research investigates this unknown by examining areas of change in the Special Flood Hazard Area (the area predicted to have a 1% chance of flooding annually) over different iterations of available FIRMs where changes can be attributed to either technical experts or property owners. These changes will then be compared to socio-economic data from US Census Data and assessed property value data to see if economic inequality is related to the ability to enact successful changes and how property values are influenced by changes in flood designation over time. The results of this research will provide theoretical contribution to who, why, and how these regulatory maps are updates, as well as a practical contribution to ongoing debates on FIRMs being “out of date” in their depiction of flood hazard (Lea [PhD dissertation]).

Past Projects

Post-Eruption Channel Response, South Toutle River, Mt. St. Helens Area, Washington

sftIn 1980, the South Fork Toutle River was devastated by lahars resulting from the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, WA. Decades later, the massive amounts of sediment and debris are still working their way through the area. This unique situation provides researchers with the opportunity to study the recovery of a small river valley after a natural disaster. Historical aerial photos will be used to create DEMs through traditional photogrammetry and present-day photography will be analyzed through the use of Structure from Motion techniques to create DEMs. (Proctor [masters thesis])


Tropical Mountain River Dynamics, Pacuare River, Costa Rica

This research is focused on the geomorphology and sediment transport dynamics of tropical mountain rivers.  Reach by reach sediment budgets are being estimated and compared to local geology and downstream fluvial processes on the Rio Pacuare. Modeling will be done to predict impacts of climate change and dam construction scenarios on the geomorphology of these dynamic systems. Data collection and analysis includes a unique combination of traditional survey techniques and Structure From Motion photogrammetry. (Lind [PhD dissertation])

Mountain Stream Dynamics and Mapping Techniques Development, Scott Creek Basin, Oregon

This project focuses on understanding the development of channel geometry and habitats in a high energy, High Cascade stream environment. To measure the stream channels longitudinally in such an extremely complex environment, new mapping techniques based on ground-based structure from motion and Kinect structured light mapping are being developed and tested. A combination of centimeter-scale mapping and agent-based modeling approaches will allow digital stream ecosystem simulation at the organism scale. (Fonstad [faculty research])

Digitizing Channel Change during Floods in the Umatilla River, Oregon

This project was conducted in 2003-05.  The overall goal was to understand the spatial pattern and controls of channel changes resulting from large floods (>25 yr recurrence interval), and to determine whether human response to historic floods, such as bank hardening, limited the ability of rivers to change in subsequent floods.   Large floods on alluvial rivers produce geomorphic changes that create and renew fish habitat and help regenerate riparian vegetation.  Floods renew spawning gravels, scour and deepen pools, and create side channels and other off-channel features.  In addition, cottonwoods and other streamside trees important to stream ecology depend on floods for regeneration.  Using historical aerial photos, documentary evidence, and government agency records, we reconstructed and analyzed spatial patterns of geomorphic change on long continuous river reaches, constructing change maps in GIS.  We also constructed GIS coverages of riverside flood protection structures — levees, revetments, and other human-built structures that restrict channel change.  The study rivers were the Umatilla River and Applegate River in Oregon.

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