Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center
An index of floodplain surface complexity
Scown, M. W., Thoms, M. C., and De Jager, N. R. 2016. An index of floodplain surface complexity. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 20, 431-441, doi:10.5194/hess-20-431-2016
Floodplain surface topography is an important component of floodplain ecosystems. It is the primary physical template upon which ecosystem processes are acted out, and complexity in this template can contribute to the high biodiversity and productivity of floodplain ecosystems. There has been a limited appreciation of floodplain surface complexity because of the traditional focus on temporal variability in floodplains as well as limitations to quantifying spatial complexity. An index of floodplain surface complexity (FSC) is developed in this paper and applied to eight floodplains from different geographic settings. The index is based on two key indicators of complexity, variability in surface geometry (VSG) and the spatial organization of surface conditions (SPO), and was determined at three sampling scales. FSC, VSG, and SPO varied between the eight floodplains and these differences depended upon sampling scale. Relationships between these measures of spatial complexity and seven geomorphological and hydrological drivers were investigated. There was a significant decline in all complexity measures with increasing floodplain width, which was explained by either a power, logarithmic, or exponential function. There was an initial rapid decline in surface complexity as floodplain width increased from 1.5 to 5 km, followed by little change in floodplains wider than 10 km. VSG also increased significantly with increasing sediment yield. No significant relationships were determined between any of the four hydrological variables and floodplain surface complexity.