• Digital terrain model;
  • gravel-bed rivers;
  • riffle–pool morphology;
  • sediment surface structure;
  • semivariogram;
  • terrestrial laser scanning


The grain-scale topography of a sediment surface is a key component of a fluvial system, affecting aspects including sediment transport, flow resistance and ecology. However, its effect is hard to quantify because of the need for grain-scale elevation data from in situ fluvial gravel surfaces which are difficult to collect. The sediment surface properties are, therefore, commonly estimated as a function of the sediment grain-size distribution; however, because of additional factors, such as grain packing and shape, there is not necessarily a unique relationship between the two. A new methodology has been developed that uses terrestrial laser scanning to collect grain-scale topographic data from in situ fluvial gravel surfaces, from which digital terrain models are created. This paper investigates methods of analysing such digital terrain models, and possible sedimentological interpretations that can be drawn from the analysis. Eleven digital terrain models from exposed gravel surfaces in two contrasting rivers (the River Feshie and Bury Green Brook) were analysed by calculating: the distribution of surface elevations, semivariograms, surface inclinations, surface slopes and aspects and grain orientation. The distribution of surface elevations and surface slope and aspect analysis were found to be most informative. In the River Feshie, grain-size was interpreted as being a dominant control on sediment surface structure and gravel imbrication was identified. In Bury Green Brook, the location of the digital terrain models within the riffle–pool sequence was the dominant control on surface structure and grain orientation. Such digital terrain models therefore provide a new approach to measuring and quantifying the topography of fluvial sediment surfaces.