Channel degradation and restoration of an Alpine river and related morphological changes
Theule, J I
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River degradation and thus necessity for restoration are major issues worldwide. However, adequate methodologies to assess morphological variations linked to these actions and the morphological success of restoration interventions are still to be determined. The Ahr River (South Tyrol, Italian Alps) was characterized until the mid-twentieth century by an anabranching and meandering pattern, but starting from the 1960s it underwent intense channel degradation in terms of narrowing, incision, and floodplain disconnection. In the period 2003–2011, several reaches of the Ahr River were restored by widening and raising the channel bed. The planimetric changes that occurred historically in the Ahr River were determined by the interpretation of 10 maps and aerial photos covering the period 1820–2011. The estimation of the incision that occurred during the degradation phase was assessed by the difference in elevation between gravel surfaces, whereas the changes introduced by restoration interventions in two reaches were evaluated through the comparison of topographic cross sections surveyed in year 2000 and a high-resolution bathymetric LiDAR survey flown in late 2012. The MQI (Morphological Quality Index) was applied to different reaches in order to test how assessment methodologies respond to degradation and restoration actions. The combined analysis of planform and vertical changes indicates that gravel mining has been the largest pressure for the river, but a change in sediment/flow regimes probably led to the channel adjustments that occurred during the early twentieth century. The restoration measures have locally increased channel width, elevation, and morphometrical diversity compared to the unrestored reaches, as well as the morphological quality assessed by MQI. However, the extent of the modifications brought about by restoration works differs between the two restored reaches, pointing out the need for a quantitative analysis of the historical evolution of each river reach before designing and implementing restoration actions and to the necessity to monitor the subsequent morphological adjustments.
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