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Babbling brook to thunderous torrent: Using sound to monitor river stage

Osborne, Wm. Alexander; Hodge, Rebecca A.; Love, Gordon D.; Hawkin, Peter; Hawkin, Ruth E.

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William Osborne
PGR Student Doctor of Philosophy

Gordon D. Love

Peter Hawkin

Ruth E. Hawkin


The passive, ambient sound above the water from a river has previously untapped potential for determining flow characteristics such as stage. Measuring sub-aerial sound could provide a new, efficient way to continuously monitor river stage, without the need for in-stream infrastructure. Previous published work has suggested that there might be a relationship between sound and river stage, but the analysis has been restricted to a narrow range of flow conditions and river morphologies. We present a method to determine site suitability and the process of how to record and analyse sound. Data collected along a 500 m length of the River Washburn during July 2019 is used to determine what makes a site suitable for sound monitoring. We found that sound is controlled by roughness elements in the channel, such as a boulder or weir, which influences the sound produced. On the basis of these findings, we collect audio recordings from 6 sites around the North East of England, covering a range of flow conditions and different roughness elements, since 2019. We use data from those sites collected during storms Ciara and Dennis to produce a relationship between this sound and river stage. Our analysis has showed a positive relationship between an R2 of 0.73 and 0.99 in all rivers, however, requires careful site selection and data processing to achieve the best results. We introduce a filter which is capable of isolating a rivers’ sound from other environmental sound. Future work in examining the role of these roughness elements is required to understand the full extent of this technique. By demonstrating that sound can operate as a hydrometric tool, we suggest that sound monitoring could be used to provide cost effective monitoring devices, either to detect relative change in a river or, after more research, a reliable stage measurement.


Osborne, W. A., Hodge, R. A., Love, G. D., Hawkin, P., & Hawkin, R. E. (2021). Babbling brook to thunderous torrent: Using sound to monitor river stage. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 46(13), 2656-2670.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 30, 2021
Online Publication Date Jul 8, 2021
Publication Date Oct 6, 2021
Deposit Date Sep 8, 2021
Publicly Available Date Sep 8, 2021
Journal Earth Surface Processes and Landforms
Print ISSN 0197-9337
Electronic ISSN 1096-9837
Publisher British Society for Geomorphology
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 46
Issue 13
Pages 2656-2670


Accepted Journal Article (2.9 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2021 The Authors. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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