Characterizing natural riparian vegetation for modeling of flow and suspended sediment transport

Kaisa Västilä*, Juha Järvelä

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)
138 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose: Riparian vegetation imposes a critical control on the transport and deposition of suspended sediment with important implications for water quality and channel maintenance. This paper contributes (1) to hydraulic and morphological modeling by examining the parameterization of natural riparian vegetation (trees, bushes, and grasses) and (2) to the design and management of environmental channels by determining how the properties of natural floodplain plant stands affect the erosion and deposition of suspended sediment. Materials and methods: Laboratory and field data were employed for enhancing the physical description of flow–plant–sediment interactions with a consideration of practical applicability. A drag force parameterization that takes into account the flexibility-induced reconfiguration, and the complex structure of foliated plants was validated for small natural trees under laboratory conditions, while the data from a small vegetated compound channel demonstrated the approaches at the field scale. Based on the field data, we identified three key vegetative factors influencing the net deposition and erosion on the floodplain. The significance of these factors was evaluated for vegetative conditions ranging from almost bare soil to sparse willows and dense grasses. Overall, the investigated conditions covered flexible and rigid vegetation with seasonal differences represented by foliated and leafless states. Results and discussion: The drag and reconfiguration of woody plants were reliably predicted under leafless and foliated conditions. Subsequently, we present a new easy-to-use methodology for predicting vegetative drag and flow resistance. The methodology is based on a physically solid parameterization for five widely used coefficients or terms (Eqs. (2)–(6)), with the necessary parameter values presented for common riparian species. The methodology was coupled with existing approaches at the field scale, revealing that increasing vegetation density and the associated decreasing flow velocity within vegetation significantly increased net deposition. Further, deposition increased with increasing cross-sectional vegetative blockage and decreasing distance from the suspended sediment replenishment point. Thus, longitudinal advection was the most important mechanism supplying fine sediment to the floodplain, but long continuous plant stands limited deposition. Conclusions: The proposed parameterization (Eqs. (2)–(6)) can be readily implemented into existing hydraulic and morphological models to improve the description of natural vegetation compared to the conventional rigid cylinder representation. The approach is advantageous for evaluating, for example, the effects of both natural succession and management interventions on floodplains. Finally, guidance is provided on how floodplain vegetation can be maintained to manage the erosion and deposition of suspended sediment in environmental channel designs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3114-3130
Number of pages17
Issue number10
Early online date18 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Cohesive sediment
  • Deposition
  • Drag force
  • Flow resistance
  • Suspended sediment
  • Vegetation


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