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How large is a river? Conceptualizing river landscape signatures and envelopes in four dimensions

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River research often addresses the influence of anthropogenic and natural processes on the ecological, hydrological, and geomorphological dynamics of river systems. However, here we take a river‐centered approach and consider how rivers influence their landscapes by developing concepts of river landscape ‘signatures’ and ‘envelopes.’ The influence of a river penetrates well beyond its channel into the atmosphere, across the land surface, and into the subsurface. We define a signature as an emergent property of a set of processes acting on a river landscape, and its envelope as the dynamic penetration of the signature across the landscape. The potential to recognize river signatures and envelopes is driven by unprecedented expansion in data acquisition, processing, and modeling technologies. The spatial envelope of any particular signature will have fuzzy and temporally dynamic edges, may rapidly expand and contract, may differ in its extent from other signatures, and may be highly permeable to many organisms using the river (and broader) landscape. However, an understanding of the approximate dynamic envelope of a signature is crucial to understanding the contribution of rivers at a landscape scale and to informing the sustainable management of these landscapes and their ecosystem services. WIREs Water 2016, 3:313–325. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1143

This article is categorized under:

  • Water and Life > Conservation, Management, and Awareness
  • Water and Life > Nature of Freshwater Ecosystems
  • Engineering Water > Planning Water
The main physical river processes that drive the multidimensional imprint of rivers on the landscape and the terminology used in the text to refer to different parts of the river corridor.
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Varying river corridor signatures along a reach of the Tagliamento River, Italy in 2000–2001: (a) surface roughness (standard deviation of vegetation canopy height from airborne lidar data, January 2001); (b) surface ‘greenness’ (normalized difference vegetation index, NDVI from Landsat7 data: (b)i—August 2001, (b)ii—December 2000; (c) surface ‘wetness’ (modified normalized difference water index, MNDWI from Landsat7 data, December 2000); (d) seasonal increase in surface temperature between winter and summer (difference in the Landsat7 thermal band: change between December 2000 and August 2001).
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Water and Life > Conservation, Management, and Awareness
Engineering Water > Planning Water
Water and Life > Nature of Freshwater Ecosystems

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