Floods and Fluvial Wood

Friday, 19 December 2014: 11:20 AM
Francesco Comiti, Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, Bolzano, Italy
Several studies have recently addressed the complex interactions existing at various spatial scales among riparian vegetation, channel morphology and wood storage. The majority of these investigations has been carried out in relatively natural river systems, focusing mostly on the long-term vegetation-morphology dynamics under “equilibrium” conditions.

Little is still known about the role of flood events – of different frequency/magnitude – on several aspects of such dynamics, e.g. entrainment conditions of in-channel wood, erosion rates of vegetation from channel margins and from islands, transport distances of wood elements of different size along the channel network. Even less understood is how the river’s evolutionary trajectory may affect these processes, and thus the degree to which conceptual models derivable from near-natural systems could be applicable to human-disturbed channels. Indeed, the different human pressures – present on most river basins worldwide – have greatly impaired the morphological and ecological functions of fluvial wood, and the attempts to “restore” in-channel wood storage are currently carried out without a sufficient understanding of wood transport processes occurring during floods. On the other hand, the capability to correctly predict the magnitude of large wood transport during large floods is now seen as crucial – especially in mountain basins – for flood hazard mapping, as is the identification of the potential wood sources (e.g. landslides, floodplains, islands) for the implementation of sound and effective hazard mitigation measures.

The presentation will first summarize the current knowledge on fluvial wood dynamics and modelling at different spatial and temporal scales, with a particular focus on mountain rivers. The effects of floods of different characteristics on vegetation erosion and wood transport will be then addressed presenting some study cases from rivers in the European Alps and in the Italian Apennines featuring different degrees of human alteration. Finally, several conclusions about the applicability of wood transport modelling and on rationale vegetation/wood management strategies will be drawn.