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Determination of bankfull discharge magnitude and frequency: comparison of methods on 16 gravel-bed river reaches

Abstract : Bankfull discharge is identified as an important parameter for studying river morphology, sediment motion, flood dynamics and their ecological impacts. In practice, the determination of this discharge and its hydrological characteristics is not easy, and a choice has to be made between several existing methods. To evaluate the impact of the choice of methods, five bankfull elevation definitions and four hydrological characterizations (determination of duration and frequency of exceedance applied to instantaneous or mean daily data) were compared on 16 gravel-bed river reaches located in France (the catchment sizes vary from 10 km2 to 1700 km2). The consistency of bankfull discharge estimated at reach scale and the hydraulic significance of the five elevation definitions were examined. The morphological definitions (Bank Inflection, Top of Bank) were found more relevant than the definitions based on a geometric criterion. The duration of exceedance was preferred to recurrence intervals (partial duration series approach) because it is not limited by the independency of flood events, especially for low discharges like those associated with the Bank Inflection definition. On average, the impacts of the choice of methods were very important for the bankfull discharge magnitude (factor of 1·6 between Bank Inflection and Top of Bank) and duration of exceedance or frequency (respectively a factor 1·8 and 1·9 between mean daily and instantaneous discharge data). The choice of one combination of methods rather than another can significantly modify the conclusions of a comparative analysis in terms of bankfull discharge magnitude and its hydrological characteristics, so that one must be cautious when comparing results from different studies that use different methods.
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Contributor : Thierry Pellarin <>
Submitted on : Wednesday, May 20, 2009 - 11:42:25 AM
Last modification on : Wednesday, May 20, 2020 - 7:33:11 PM

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Oldrich Navratil, Marie-Bernadette Albert, Eric Herouin, Jean-Michel Grésillon. Determination of bankfull discharge magnitude and frequency: comparison of methods on 16 gravel-bed river reaches. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, Wiley, 2006, 31 (11), pp.1345 à 1363. ⟨10.1002/esp.1337⟩. ⟨insu-00385845⟩



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