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Clustering River Profiles to Classify Geomorphic Domains

Clubb, Fiona J.; Bookhagen, Bodo; Rheinwalt, Aljoscha

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Bodo Bookhagen

Aljoscha Rheinwalt


The structure and organization of river networks has been used for decades to investigate the influence of climate and tectonics on landscapes. The majority of these studies either analyze rivers in profile view by extracting channel steepness or calculate planform metrics such as drainage density. However, these techniques rely on the assumption of homogeneity: that intrinsic and external factors are spatially or temporally invariant over the measured profile. This assumption is violated for the majority of Earth's landscapes, where variations in uplift rate, rock strength, climate, and geomorphic process are almost ubiquitous. We propose a method for classifying river profiles to identify landscape regions with similar characteristics by adapting hierarchical clustering algorithms developed for time series data. We first test our clustering on two landscape evolution scenarios and find that we can successfully cluster regions with different erodibility and detect the transient response to sudden base level fall. We then test our method in two real landscapes: first in Bitterroot National Forest, Idaho, where we demonstrate that our method can detect transient incision waves and the topographic signature of fluvial and debris flow process regimes; and second, on Santa Cruz Island, California, where our technique identifies spatial patterns in lithology not detectable through normalized channel steepness analysis. By calculating channel steepness separately for each cluster, our method allows the extraction of more reliable steepness metrics than if calculated for the landscape as a whole. These examples demonstrate the method's ability to disentangle fluvial morphology in complex lithological and tectonic settings.


Clubb, F. J., Bookhagen, B., & Rheinwalt, A. (2019). Clustering River Profiles to Classify Geomorphic Domains. Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, 124(6), 1417-1439.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 25, 2019
Online Publication Date May 1, 2019
Publication Date Jun 1, 2019
Deposit Date Jul 3, 2019
Publicly Available Date Nov 1, 2019
Journal Journal of geophysical research. Earth surface.
Print ISSN 2169-9011
Electronic ISSN 2169-9011
Publisher American Geophysical Union
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 124
Issue 6
Pages 1417-1439


Accepted Journal Article (54.3 Mb)

Copyright Statement
This is the accepted version of the following article: Clubb, Fiona J., Bookhagen, Bodo & Rheinwalt, Aljoscha (2019). Clustering River Profiles to Classify Geomorphic Domains. Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface 124(6): 1417-1439, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance With Wiley Terms and Conditions for self-archiving.

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