Floodplain channel morphology and networks of the middle Amazon River


Corresponding author: M. A. Trigg, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 1RJ, UK. (mark.trigg@bristol.ac.uk)


[1] 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+) 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 ∼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.