GeoTERM: Geospatial Toolkit for Enhanced River Management

Lead Research Organisation: Queen Mary, University of London
Department Name: Geography

Abstract

Sustainable management of river systems involves balancing multiple objectives. These include alleviating flood hazards and the risks they pose to people and critical assets whilst promoting good ecological status by supporting healthy biological communities and enhancing habitat diversity. In regions with high rates of coarse sediment supply to rivers, management often involves addressing the issues associated with the progressive accumulation of gravel within channels. Such sedimentation can raise riverbeds levels, resulting in reduced flood capacity which in turn may result in an increased probability of flooding and a reduction in the standards of protection associated with existing defences.

One approach to manage this hazard is through the extraction of riverbed gravels to restore flood capacity, correct river alignments, prevent bank erosion and reduce the threat of catastrophic course changes. The extracted river gravels are also not without value and represent an important source of aggregate for the construction industry. So much so, that gravel-bed rivers close to urban areas are often considered ideal mines of readily available sediment. This situation can, therefore, be presented as a potential win-win game. As long as gravel extraction is balanced against the naturally occurring upstream sediment supply, an adaptive management regime can be devised to maintain flood capacity whilst generating a key commercial resource. However, it is now well-established that estimating this balance incorrectly and over-extracting gravels can lower the riverbed, steepen the channel gradient, leading to enhanced bank erosion and paradoxically reduce flood protection by destabilizing existing flood control measures. Additionally, removal of the typically coarse surface layer of riverbed gravels can alter the bed sediment composition creating a flush of fine sediment that degrades invertebrate and fish habitat.

Plans to dredge rivers to enhance flood capacity, so prominently popularized by the recent events in the Somerset Levels, must therefore be based on cautious, scientifically-informed and evidence-led strategies to plan, implement and review interventions. Traditionally, sediment management plans have been based on data from sparse networks of river cross-sections. These provide a basis for monitoring trends in bed levels through periodic resurveys. The resulting data can also be used to determine a morphological gravel transport rate and estimate the background rate of sediment supply. Recent research has shown that the river level and gravel transport estimates based on section data, which is effectively blind to the river morphology between sections, can incorporate significant bias giving rise of 2-3 order of magnitude uncertainties the key data used to drive management strategies.

Advances in remote sensing offer a solution to alleviate this bias by estimating channel changes through the comparison of 3D elevation models through time. Differences between these models provide reliable measures of elevation change and can be integrated to assess regional trends. Historically, the high costs of acquiring dense topographic data to create these models has prohibited their use for routine monitoring. Continuing developments, most notably in photogrammetry methods have recently and dramatically reduced the cost of these data and removed a bottleneck preventing their adoption.

In this project we will work with a group of stakeholders from national and local government in the UK and NZ to develop a software tool that can support routine channel monitoring using these new streams of dense 3D topographic data. The resulting tool will facilitate simplified workflows that can be easily implemented by agency and authority staff and used to present the results within a statistical uncertainty framework that accounts for errors in the underlying topographic data.

Planned Impact

This project focuses on the development of a software toolkit, co-created with an extensive network of project partners that form part of knowledge exchange network to guide the development of the project from inception to final reporting.

The key project output is a professionally engineered, tested and data-verified software tool to support the development of river sediment management plans. This tool will facilitate the routine use of novel 3D data on river topography to reliably quantify trends in river bed level and gravel sediment transport routinely. The resulting data products will provide critical evidence to support regulatory authorities who need to develop consent planning and permitting strategies to extract or conserve gravel in an attempt to balance the often competing demands of flood protection and enhancing the ecological status of rivers.

By using these data to fine tune sediment extraction plans, the proposal has the potential to improve flood risk and ecological river management and so greatly enhance quality of life. Additionally, were permitted, the toolkit can support the design of sustainable gravel extraction from rivers that is a valuable resource for road engineering and the construction industry providing key economic benefits.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The principal product of this Innovation Project is a new geospatial software toolkit (the GCD tool) designed for the analysis of high-resolution 3D topographic (terrain) models of the environment. Specifically, this tool supports the development of 3D terrain models from airborne, satellite and ground-based remote sensing and incorporates specific workflows to quantify the spatial pattern and magnitude of topographic change by inter-comparing surface models derived at two or more intervals. The software uses a range of numerical methods to account for the underlying uncertainty in the terrain models that arises from instrument errors, sampling design and interpolation and uses these to quantify the uncertainty in the derived models of erosion/deposition or surface deformation. Two versions of the software were developed, one version built as a module for the leading GIS software, ArcGIS and a further 'standalone' version without any dependencies. The software code is open source and both the raw code and executables, along with training datasets and tutorial documentation can be downloaded from our new website, gcd.riverscapes.xyz.
Exploitation Route a) The software improve the reliability of fundamental measurements of river form and evolution.
b) These data are vital to inform the assessment of flood risk and gravel storage and optimize channel management activities.
c) The software will provide a step-change in the quality of information used by agencies to inform their management strategies, ensuring that gravel extraction rates are optimized to ensure flood management without causing undue channel degradation and habitat disturbance.
d) Enhancements in the data available to drive channel management will also be of use of the aggregates industry who will be able to optimize the mining activities against well established consents and permits.
e) Over extraction can be monitored accurately and where appropriate, actions taken against contractors who breach consented extraction rates.
Sectors Environment

URL http://gcd.riverscapes.xyz
 
Description As part of the project, stakeholder specific case-studies and training workshops have been held, involving multiple team members from each stakeholder (the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Environment Canterbury, the Otago Regional Council and Hawkes Bay Regional Council). The software now being used actively by these partner organizations to support both active gravel management (defining permitted extraction rates) and also to audit compliance by contractors around their consented rates of extraction. The NERC project was fundamental in enabling the bespoke design of the software to meet the multiple objectives of the stakeholders, while also providing a critical service for fundamental river research. The funds supported the development of a joint team of stakeholders who met to co-design the key functionality of the software and identify the range of applications. The funds provided the opportunity to embed the software within teams at each partner organization and the development of relevant case study training and tutorial materials. The beneficiaries of the research are manifold and include: a) regulatory agencies charged with river and flood management; b) consulting engineers and mining firms providing evidence to support applications to extract gravel; c) environmental agencies and NGOs concerned to ensure sustainable rates of gravel extraction; d) the wider academic community concerned with quantifying the rate and pattern of landscape evolution. Relevant quotations from key partners involved in the project include: "The tools have proven to be really helpful for me so far and allowed me to carry out reliable analysis on complex spatial datasets for regional councils in New Zealand, helping them to make better decisions around future management of their gravel resources. The tools have proven very easy to use and have simplified my otherwise complex workflows in order to reliably carry out comparisons of DEM datasets. As more LiDAR and drone survey datasets become available, I can see these tools becoming part of the day to day toolkit for engineers working with gravel rivers." Matthew Gardner, LandSeaRiver Consulting, New Zealand. Uptake of the software is being logged by monitoring downloads from the software website and associated Github pages. Regular updates are promised from the key partners and a log of projects using the software will be kept to monitor how and where the software is being applied.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Collaboration with the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research, New Zealand 
Organisation National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA, New Zealand)
Country New Zealand 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution This collaboration has involved the transfer of datasets and new methods for quantifying river dynamics using terrestrial remote sensing.
Collaborator Contribution Our partners provided field and logistical support and have transferred new numerical models they have developed and applied to our datasets.
Impact The collaboration has resulting in seven co-authored peer reviewed articles with partners, and multiple conference papers.
Start Year 2009
 
Description GeoTERM Project Partnerships 
Organisation Environment Canterbury
PI Contribution NERC GeoTERM has established partnerships with three regional councils in New Zealand (Environment Canterbury, Hawkes Bay Regional Council, Otago Regional Council) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. These partnerships are being used actively to design a software tool to that leverages emerging high resolution survey and modelling tools to better inform estimates of river flood capacity and gravel storage.
Collaborator Contribution The project partners met with the research team as part of three day workshop held in Christchurch NZ in June 2017. During this workshop the scope and critical steps involved in the engineering the software toolkit were mapped out and aligned with the expectations of the various stakeholders. Subsequently, the research team converted the outcome of this meeting into a software design brief that has been discussed with the partners and is currently being implemented and validated.
Impact 1) Unpublished project workshop minutes; 2) software design brief.
Start Year 2017
 
Description GeoTERM Project Partnerships 
Organisation Hawke's Bay Regional Council
PI Contribution NERC GeoTERM has established partnerships with three regional councils in New Zealand (Environment Canterbury, Hawkes Bay Regional Council, Otago Regional Council) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. These partnerships are being used actively to design a software tool to that leverages emerging high resolution survey and modelling tools to better inform estimates of river flood capacity and gravel storage.
Collaborator Contribution The project partners met with the research team as part of three day workshop held in Christchurch NZ in June 2017. During this workshop the scope and critical steps involved in the engineering the software toolkit were mapped out and aligned with the expectations of the various stakeholders. Subsequently, the research team converted the outcome of this meeting into a software design brief that has been discussed with the partners and is currently being implemented and validated.
Impact 1) Unpublished project workshop minutes; 2) software design brief.
Start Year 2017
 
Description GeoTERM Project Partnerships 
Organisation Otago Regional Council
PI Contribution NERC GeoTERM has established partnerships with three regional councils in New Zealand (Environment Canterbury, Hawkes Bay Regional Council, Otago Regional Council) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. These partnerships are being used actively to design a software tool to that leverages emerging high resolution survey and modelling tools to better inform estimates of river flood capacity and gravel storage.
Collaborator Contribution The project partners met with the research team as part of three day workshop held in Christchurch NZ in June 2017. During this workshop the scope and critical steps involved in the engineering the software toolkit were mapped out and aligned with the expectations of the various stakeholders. Subsequently, the research team converted the outcome of this meeting into a software design brief that has been discussed with the partners and is currently being implemented and validated.
Impact 1) Unpublished project workshop minutes; 2) software design brief.
Start Year 2017
 
Description GeoTERM Project Partnerships 
Organisation Scottish Environment Protection Agency
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution NERC GeoTERM has established partnerships with three regional councils in New Zealand (Environment Canterbury, Hawkes Bay Regional Council, Otago Regional Council) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. These partnerships are being used actively to design a software tool to that leverages emerging high resolution survey and modelling tools to better inform estimates of river flood capacity and gravel storage.
Collaborator Contribution The project partners met with the research team as part of three day workshop held in Christchurch NZ in June 2017. During this workshop the scope and critical steps involved in the engineering the software toolkit were mapped out and aligned with the expectations of the various stakeholders. Subsequently, the research team converted the outcome of this meeting into a software design brief that has been discussed with the partners and is currently being implemented and validated.
Impact 1) Unpublished project workshop minutes; 2) software design brief.
Start Year 2017