Estuarine ecosystems are controlled by a variety of processes that operate at multiple spatial and temporal scales. Understanding the hierarchical nature of these processes will aid in prioritization of restoration efforts. This hierarchical Columbia River Estuary Ecosystem Classification (henceforth "Classification") of the Columbia River estuary is a spatial database of the tidally-influenced reaches of the lower Columbia River, the tidally affected parts of its tributaries, and the landforms that make up their floodplains for the 230 kilometers between the Pacific Ocean and Bonneville Dam. This work is a collaborative effort between University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences (henceforth "UW"), U.S. Geological Survey (henceforth "USGS"), and the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership (henceforth "EP"). Consideration of geomorphologic processes will improve the understanding of controlling physical factors that drive ecosystem evolution along the tidal Columbia River. The Classification is organized around six hierarchical levels, progressing from the coarsest, regional scale to the finest, localized scale: (1) Ecosystem Province; (2) Ecoregion; (3) Hydrogeomorphic Reach; (4) Ecosystem Complex; (5) Geomorphic Catena; and (6) Primary Cover Class. For Levels 4 and 5, we mapped landforms within the Holocene floodplain primarily by visual interpretation of Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) topography supplemented with aerial photographs, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) soils data, and historical maps. Mapped landforms are classified as to their current geomorphic function, the inferred process regime that formed them, and anthropogenic modification. Channels were classified primarily by a set of depth-based rules and geometric relationships. Classification Level 5 floodplain landforms ("geomorphic catenae") were further classified based on multivariate analysis of land-cover within the mapped landform area and attributed as "sub-catena". The extent of detailed mapping is the interpreted Holocene geologic floodplain of the tidal Columbia River and its tributaries to the estimated head of tide. The extent of this dataset also includes tributary valleys that are not mapped in detail. The upstream extents of tributary valleys are an estimation of the limit of Columbia River influence and are for use as containers in future analyses. The geologic floodplain is the geomorphic surface that is actively accumulating sediment through occasional overbank deposition. Most features within the geologic floodplain are considered to be formed during the recent (Holocene-epoch) climatic regime. There are bedrock and pre-Holocene sedimentary deposits included where they are surrounded by Holocene sediment accumulations or have been shaped by Holocene floods. In some places, Holocene landforms such as landslides, tributary fans, and coastal dunes are mapped that extend outside of the modern floodplain. This map is not a floodplain hazard map or delineation of actual flood boundaries. Although wetlands are included in the Classification, they are based on different criteria than jurisdictional wetlands. The extent of mapping may differ from the actual limit of tidal influence.
Additional publication details
USGS Unnumbered Series
Columbia River Estuary Ecosystem Classification Ecosystem Complex