Sensitivity of a hydraulic model to channel erosion uncertainty during extreme flooding

Jefferson S. Wong*, Jim E. Freer, Paul D. Bates, David A. Sear, Elisabeth M. Stephens

*Corresponding author for this work

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

28 Citations (Scopus)


Recent research into flood modelling has primarily concentrated on the simulation of inundation flow without considering the influences of channel morphology. River channels are often represented by a simplified geometry that is implicitly assumed to remain unchanged during flood simulations. However, field evidence demonstrates that significant morphological changes can occur during floods to mobilize the boundary sediments. Despite this, the effect of channel morphology on model results has been largely unexplored. To address this issue, the impact of channel cross-section geometry and channel long-profile variability on flood dynamics is examined using an ensemble of a 1D-2D hydraulic model (LISFLOOD-FP) of the ~1:2000year recurrence interval floods in Cockermouth, UK, within an uncertainty framework. A series of simulated scenarios of channel erosional changes were constructed on the basis of a simple velocity-based model of critical entrainment. A Monte-Carlo simulation framework was used to quantify the effects of this channel morphology together with variations in the channel and floodplain roughness coefficients, grain size characteristics and critical shear stress on measures of flood inundation. The results showed that the bed elevation modifications generated by the simplistic equations reflected an approximation of the observed patterns of spatial erosion that enveloped observed erosion depths. The effect of uncertainty on channel long-profile variability only affected the local flood dynamics and did not significantly affect the friction sensitivity and flood inundation mapping. The results imply that hydraulic models generally do not need to account for within event morphodynamic changes of the type and magnitude of event modelled, as these have a negligible impact that is smaller than other uncertainties, e.g. boundary conditions. Instead, morphodynamic change needs to happen over a series of events to become large enough to change the hydrodynamics of floods in supply limited gravel-bed rivers such as the one used in this research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)261-279
Number of pages19
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2015


  • Channel erosion
  • Flood dynamics
  • Flood modelling
  • Sensitivity analysis
  • Uncertainty


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