Floodplain channel morphology and networks of the middle Amazon River

Mark A Trigg, Paul D Bates, Matt D Wilson, Guy J Schumann, Calum A Baugh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

84 Citations (Scopus)
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Floodplain channels are important components of river-floodplain systems and are known to play a key role in hydrodynamic exchange and sediment transport. The Amazon floodplain exhibits complex networks of these channels, and despite their potential importance to this globally important wetland system, these floodplain channels are relatively unstudied. The research presented here is the first systematic and detailed study of the network and morphologic characteristics of a large number of these channels in the middle reach of the central Amazon River using analysis of data derived from Landsat Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM vertical bar ) mosaic and field survey. Our findings show that the channels are ubiquitous, their width varies widely, and some of their characteristics can be fitted using power laws, potentially much like the self-similar or fractal-like behavior hypothesized for other types of fluvial networks. In all, 96% of the floodplain channels are not wide enough to be represented well, or at all, in the similar to 90 m Shuttle Radar Topography Mission data. Channel depths are tied closely to the local amplitude of the passing main river flood wave (p value of 0.75), except where there are local runoff inputs, which results in substantially deeper channels which provide preferential flow paths across the floodplain. Channel networks imply that areas of the floodplain function for large parts of the flood cycle as separate hydrogeomorphic land units, here termed floodplain hydrological units (FHUs). These hypothesized FHUs also have distinct spatial and pattern characteristics, and it is suggested here that their differences could provide the beginnings of a framework for understanding the detailed hydrodynamics of the floodplain. In particular, different types of FHUs have differences in flood water source, which will have important implications for biogeochemical studies of the wetlands.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberW10504
Number of pages17
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 6 Oct 2012


  • Amazon River
  • bathymetric survey
  • floodplain channels
  • floodplain hydrologic units
  • hydraulic connectivity
  • várzea wetland


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