Geomorphic risk maps for river migration using probabilistic modeling - a framework

Brayden Noh, Omar Wani, Kieran B.J. Dunne, Michael P. Lamb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Lateral migration of meandering rivers poses erosional risks to human settlements, roads, and infrastructure in alluvial floodplains. While there is a large body of scientific literature on the dominant mechanisms driving river migration, it is still not possible to accurately predict river meander evolution over multiple years. This is in part because we do not fully understand the relative contribution of each mechanism and because deterministic mathematical models are not equipped to account for stochasticity in the system. Besides, uncertainty due to model structure deficits and unknown parameter values remains. For a more reliable assessment of risks, we therefore need probabilistic forecasts. Here, we present a workflow to generate geomorphic risk maps for river migration using probabilistic modeling. We start with a simple geometric model for river migration, where nominal migration rates increase with local and upstream curvature. We then account for model structure deficits using smooth random functions. Probabilistic forecasts for river channel position over time are generated by Monte Carlo runs using a distribution of model parameter values inferred from satellite data. We provide a recipe for parameter inference within the Bayesian framework. We demonstrate that such risk maps are relatively more informative in avoiding false negatives, which can be both detrimental and costly, in the context of assessing erosional hazards due to river migration. Our results show that with longer prediction time horizons, the spatial uncertainty of erosional hazard within the entire channel belt increases - with more geographical area falling within 25ĝ€¯%ĝ€¯<ĝ€¯probabilityĝ€¯<ĝ€¯75ĝ€¯%. However, forecasts also become more confident about erosion for regions immediately in the vicinity of the river, especially on its cut-bank side. Probabilistic modeling thus allows us to quantify our degree of confidence - which is spatially and temporally variable - in river migration forecasts. We also note that to increase the reliability of these risk maps, we need to describe the first-order dynamics in our model to a reasonable degree of accuracy, and simple geometric models do not always possess such accuracy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)691-708
Number of pages18
JournalEarth Surface Dynamics
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 8 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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