A geomorphic approach to the identification of river recovery potential

Gary Brierley, Kirstie Fryirs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Citations (Scopus)


While many studies have documented pathways of river degradation, few studies have assessed the character, capacity, and stages of river recovery. In this paper, a generic procedure to measure river recovery is developed and applied in Bega catchment, on the south coast of New South Wales (NSW), Australia. The approach is based on analysis of geomorphic units and ergodic reasoning. Historical data and field analyses are used to identify stages of river evolution throughout Bega catchment. From this, stages of river condition and pathways of adjustment are assessed for three river styles at different positions within the catchment. Five categories of river condition are identified. Intact reaches operate in a self-adjusting manner, whereby processes maintain the pre-disturbance geomorphic character of the reach. The processes occurring in restoration reaches maintain and enhance the geomorphic structure of the reach. These reaches are moderately resilient to change. The river has experienced degradation, but has recovered to a condition approximating its pre-disturbance character and behavior. Degraded reaches are still adjusting to disturbance and the processes of recovery have not yet begun. The river is experiencing progressive deterioration away from the structure and function of the pre-disturbance condition. Turning-point reaches are at the transitional stage where they can either recover or revert to a degraded state. Finally, a creation reach has a self-adjusting character and behavior but operates under altered catchment boundary conditions. The character and behavior of the river do not equate to pre-disturbance conditions; rather, the river is well adjusted to the prevailing catchment boundary conditions of water and sediment transfer, and vegetation cover and composition (among many factors). Once these conditions have been identified for each river style, all reaches in a catchment are placed on pathways of degradation and recovery, and predictions made about their direction of change. The three river styles analyzed in Bega catchment demonstrate differing recovery pathways. Some reaches are adjusting toward a restored condition, while others are adjusting toward a new (or creation) condition. The geomorphic recovery potential of each reach is determined by assessing the connectivity of reaches throughout the catchment and interpreting limiting factors to recovery (e.g., water and sediment transfer, vegetation and coarse woody debris [CWD] character and distribution).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)244-277
Number of pages34
JournalPhysical Geography
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2000


  • Fluvial geomorphology
  • Geomorphic river condition
  • Recovery potential
  • River degradation
  • River management
  • River recovery


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