Characterizing the danger of in-channel river hazards using LIDAR and a 2D hydrodynamic model

Monday, 15 December 2014
Michael A Strom and Gregory B Pasternack, University of California Davis, Davis, CA, United States
Despite many injuries and deaths each year worldwide, no analytically rigorous attempt exists to characterize and quantify the dangers to boaters, swimmers, fishermen, and other river enthusiasts. While designed by expert boaters, the International Scale of River Difficulty provides a whitewater classification that uses qualitative descriptions and subjective scoring. The purpose of this study was to develop an objective characterization of in-channel hazard dangers across spatial scales from a single boulder to an entire river segment for application over a wide range of discharges and use in natural hazard assessment and mitigation, recreational boating safety, and river science. A process-based conceptualization of river hazards was developed, and algorithms were programmed in R to quantify the associated dangers. Danger indicators included the passage proximity and reaction time posed to boats and swimmers in a river by three hazards: emergent rocks, submerged rocks, and hydraulic jumps or holes. The testbed river was a 12.2 km mixed bedrock-alluvial section of the upper South Yuba River between Lake Spaulding and Washington, CA in the Sierra Mountains. The segment has a mean slope of 1.63%, with 8 reaches varying from 1.07% to 3.30% slope and several waterfalls. Data inputs to the hazard analysis included sub-decimeter aerial color imagery, airborne LIDAR of the river corridor, bathymetric data, flow inputs, and a stage-discharge relation for the end of the river segment. A key derived data product was the location and configuration of boulders and boulder clusters as these were potential hazards. Two-dimensional hydrodynamic modeling was used to obtain the meter-scale spatial pattern of depth and velocity at discharges ranging from baseflow to modest flood stages. Results were produced for four discharges and included the meter-scale spatial pattern of the passage proximity and reaction time dangers for each of the three hazards investigated. These results were plotted to yield longitudinal danger profiles and aggregated at site, reach, and segment scales. As discharge increased, the areal fractions of the passage proximity and reaction time dangers within the river showed a monotonic increase and decrease for holes and emergent rocks, respectively, while submerged rocks exhibited a humped trend.