A multidisciplinary framework to derive global river reach classifications at high spatial resolution

Environmental Research Letters
By: , and 



Projected climate and environmental change are expected to increase the pressure on global freshwater resources. To prepare for and cope with the related risks, stakeholders need to devise plans for sustainable management of river systems, which in turn requires the identification of management-appropriate operational units, such as groups of rivers that share similar environmental and biological characteristics. Ideally, these units are of a manageable size, and are biotically or abiotically distinguishable across a variety of river types. Here, we aim to address this need by presenting a new global river classification framework (GloRiC) to establish a common vocabulary and standardized approach to the development of globally comprehensive and integrated river classifications that can be tailored to different goals and requirements. We define the GloRiC conceptual framework based on five categories of variables: (1) hydrology; (2) physiography and climate; (3) fluvial geomorphology; (4) water chemistry; and (5) aquatic biology. We then apply the framework using hydro-environmental attributes provided by a seamless high-resolution river reach database to create initial instances of three sub-classifications (hydrologic, physio-climatic, and geomorphic) which we ultimately combine into 127 river reach types at the global scale. These supervised classifications utilize a mix of statistical analyses and expert interpretation to identify the classifier variables, the number of classes, and their thresholds. In addition, we also present an unsupervised, multivariable k-means statistical clustering of all river reaches into 30 groups. These first-of-their-kind global river reach classifications at high spatial resolution provide baseline information for a total of 35.9 million kilometers of rivers that have been assessed in this study, and are expected to be particularly useful in remote or data-poor river basins. The GloRiC framework and associated data are primarily designed for broad and rapid applicability in assessments that require stratified analyses of river ecosystem conditions at global and regional scales; smaller-scale applications could follow the same conceptual framework yet use more detailed data sources.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title A multidisciplinary framework to derive global river reach classifications at high spatial resolution
Series title Environmental Research Letters
DOI 10.1088/1748-9326/aad8e9
Volume 14
Issue 2
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher IOP Science
Contributing office(s) Land Change Science
Description 12 p.
First page 1
Last page 12
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