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Introduction to the thematic issue: "Quantitative hydro-geomorphology"

Cyril Fleurant, Johnny Douvinet et Daniel Delahaye
p. 3-6
Traduction(s) :
Introduction du numéro thématique : « Hydro-géomorphologie quantitative »

Notes de la rédaction

Article soumis le 22 novembre 2012, accepté le 23 novembre 2012.

Texte intégral

Co-Guest Editors would like to thank the authors who answered this call for papers and the eighteen anonymous reviewers. We also want to deeply thank Gilles Arnaud-Fassetta, Editor in Chief of the journal Géomorphologie: relief, processus, environnement for his confidence and his availability.

1Since a few decades hydro-geomorphologists use quantitative tools to estimate flows, water or sediments passing across river basins. They focus on the upstream/downstream interactions and on the numerous vertical/horizontal relationships acting on the hydrological processes. They also try to better understand and to model the processes from local scales (in m2) to global scales (from 10 km2 to over 100 000 km2 in some cases) to reveal the spatial and temporal scaling effects governing the dynamics of drainage systems. Such methods increase since the late 1980’s, consequently it becomes irrelevant to draw up a complete state-of-art. Nevertheless this thematic issue deals with some of these approaches, including useful tools for specific and diversified challenges. Hydro-geomorphologists have an interdisciplinary position between the water and rock cycles, focusing on geomorphic processes – closely related to the implementation and the erosion of landforms – and hydrologic processes – runoff and/or sediments flowing into streams (Rasmussen, 2012) but also the resulting landforms – e.g., riverbank incision, sedimentary deposit on convex riverbank, fan development. They also conduct societal researches as observed flows can represent significant risks for people and their environment (e.g., Piégay, 1996; Delahaye, 2002; Reid, 2004; Arnaud-Fassetta et al., 2009; Gaume et al., 2009).

2A.E. Scheidegger (1972) first defined the term “hydro-geomorphology” as the study of the landforms resulting from the action of water. However, foundations and the concepts of this discipline emerged in the 1960’s (e.g., Hack and Goodlett, 1960; Tsukamoto, 1961; Leopold and Langbein, 1962; Kirkby and Chorley, 1967; Shreve, 1969). Initially, many morphometric indexes allowed the characterisation of geometry of river basins and their relationships with hydrological processes (e.g., Gravelius, 1914; Jovanovic 1940; Rodriguez-Iturbe and Rinaldo, 1997; Delahaye, 2008; Douvinet, 2008). But the single use of these indexes was not enough in the understanding of the rainfall-runoff transfer functions.

3Structure and hierarchical organisation of river networks were also studied into details (Horton, 1945; Schumm, 1956; Strahler, 1957; Shreve, 1969), and a large number of experimental studies pointed out the connection with their scaling properties in catchment modelling (Labarbera and Rosso, 1990; Tarboton et al., 1990; Rosso et al., 1991; Duchesne et al., 1997; Rodriguez-Iturbe and Rinaldo, 1997; Delahaye, 2002; Fleurant et al., 2006). Significant progress carried out by taking the geometry of catchments and river networks into account. Such studies also conducted to the development of the fractal geometry and the complexity theory (Dauphiné, 2003). Meanwhile, experimental works on the current dynamics of processes and landforms were developed (e.g., Davy and Lague, 2009; Tucker and Hancock, 2010) as well as long-time approaches (e.g., Lespez et al., 2008). The current fillings of floor valley are products of past erosion. Stored sediments remain an important source of information to better understand the relationships between river and sediments dynamics through scales (e.g., Nicholas et al., 1995; Lane and Richards, 1997; Beel et al., 2011) or the influences of land use on hydrological and sedimentary dynamics (e.g., Chatterjea, 1994; McDowell et al., 2002; Notebaert et al., 2011).

4The quantification of processes was developed in early 1980’s for three main reasons: (i) the development of efficient experimental equipment’s – e.g., measure of sediments and water discharges using DOPLER, measure of the topography using terrestrial LIDAR or the use of disdrometer to define the raindrops size involved in erosion processes; (ii) the increase of geographical information data – satellite imagery, BD topo, BD carto, banque hydro; (iii) the increasing power of computers in the late 1980’s, which allows new innovative and powerful technologies – GIS, remote sensing, distributed and semi-distributed models. These tools allowed the high quality-quantification of spatial – through a better density of data – and time – by taking into account high frequencies – processes and scaling effects. The words “crisis”, “break”, “threshold” or “discontinuity”, which originally were widely used in the sciences of complexity, are commonly used in hydro-geomorphology, highlighting interactions between these two disciplines.

5Hydro-geomorphology involves many quantitative methods but is deeply linked to a naturalistic, pragmatic and empiric approach. Field measurements remain the basis of reflection and construction of assumptions as well as experimental designs and validation of results (e.g., Biggs et al., 2006; Berger et al., 2010; Millares et al., 2012).
Without attempting the exhaustiveness, the six articles joined for this thematic issue reflect the plurality of tools and the innovative approaches in France and elsewhere. Roughly, these papers deal with the influence of landforms on water flows (four papers) and on associated sediments (two papers). These contributions are part of the international research on quantitative hydro-geomorphology and provide major research ways to this discipline. J. Aouissi et al. (this issue) show how, through the Hydrostruct software, one can make a link between the river networks morphometry and the hydrological behaviour of the catchment. The example given in the Merguellil river basin (192 km2) in central Tunisia means how the structural parameters from river networks can supply a rainfall-runoff model. V. Bonhomme et al. (this issue) propose a new method to describe the shape of a catchment using elliptic Fourier transforms. Their analysis of 75 catchments with areas greater than 50 km2 located at the east coast of Haiti, aims to address a new point of view over the relationship between the shape of a river basin and its associated hydrological behaviour. J. Douvinet et al. (this issue) propose a new way for the quantification of hydromorphological connectivity of networks to detect a potential of damages in case of flash floods. Their study on five catchments (between 2.8 and 27.9 km2) in northern France is based on the use of a cellular automaton approach (Ruicells) and the concentration index (theoretical) is shown to qualitatively align of instances of damages (reality). D. Maréchal et al. (this issue) are also interested in the relationship between the shape of a river basin and the hydrologic behaviour. Thus, a morphometric analysis of two catchments, located in the “Cevennes” (0.6 and 0.9 km2), is based on extraction of the river networks by the media of a DEM and the authors show the differences in hydrological behaviour they call “hillslope” type and “network” type. A.-J. Rollet and H. Piégay (this issue) present a methodology for quantifying the sediment budget of the lower Ain valley. Based on a mapping river, on calculations of eroded/accretion surfaces of accurate sediment budget, the authors emphasise the importance of the scale which must be taken into account to define a sustainable management for the river. Finally, W. Zglobicki (this issue), works on the Lublin plateau (Poland) to estimate, from fifty-three 14C dating, the average rates of sedimentation. He makes the assumption that the increase in the average speeds for 8000 years can be directly attributed to human activities, including deforestation.

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Arnaud-Fassetta G., Astrade L., Bardou E., Corbonnois J., Delahaye D., Fort M., Gautier E., Jacob N., Peiry J.-L., Piégay H., Penven M.-J. (2009) – Fluvial geomorphology and flood-risk management. Géomorphologie : relief, processus, environnement 2, 109-128.

Beel C.R., Orwin J.F., Holland P.G. (2011) – Controls on slope-to-channel fine sediment connectivity in a largely ice-free valley, Hoophorn Stream, Southern Alps, New Zealand. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 36, 981-994.

Berger C., Schulze M., Rieke-Zapp D., Schlunegger F. (2010) – Rill development and soil erosion: a laboratory study of slope and rainfall intensity. Earth Surface Processes and Landform 35, 1456-1467.

Biggs T.W., Dunne T., Muraoka T. (2006) – Transport of water, solutes and nutrients from a pasture hillslope, southwestern Brazilian Amazon. Hydrological Processes 20, 2527-2547.

Chatterjea K. (1994) – Dynamics of fluvial and slope processes in the changing geomorphic environment of Singapore. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 19, 585-607.

Dauphiné A. (2003)Les théories de la complexité chez les géographes. Anthropos, Paris, 248 p.

Davy P., Lague D. (2009) – The erosion/transport equation of landscape evolution models revisited. Journal of Geophysical Research 114, F03007.

Delahaye D. (2002) Apport de l’analyse spatiale en géomorphologie. Modélisation et approche multi-scalaire des risques. Mémoire d’habilitation à Diriger des Recherches, Université de Rouen, 2 tomes, 471 p.

Delahaye D. (2008) – Modelling the watershed as a Complex Spatial System: A review. In Guermond Y. (Ed.) Modeling Process in Geography. Wiley, Chichester, 191-213.

Douvinet J. (2008)Les bassins versants sensibles aux crues rapides dans le nord de la France (Bassin Parisien) – Analyse de la structure et de la dynamique de systèmes spatiaux complexes, Thèse de géographie, Université de Caen, 325 p.

Duchesne J., Cudennec C., Corbierre V. (1997) – Relevance of the H2U model to predict the discharge of a catchment. Water Science and Technology 36, 169-175.

Fleurant C., Kartiwa B., Roland B. (2006) – Analytical model for a geomorphological instantaneous unit hydrograph. Hydrological Processes 20, 3879-3895.

Gaume E., Bain V., Bernardara P., Newinger O., Barbuc M., Bateman A., Blaskovicova L., Bloschl G., Borga M. Dumitrescu A., Daliakopoulos I., Garcia J., Irismescu A., Kohnova S., Koutroulis A. Marchi L., Matreat S., Medina V., Preciso E., Sempre-Torres D., Strancalie G., Szolgay J., Tsnais I., Velasco D., Viglione A. (2009) – A compilation of data on European flash floods. Journal of Hydrology 367, 70-78.

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Hack J.T., Goodlett J.C. (1960) – Geomorphology and forest ecology of a mountain region in the central Appalachians. United States Geological Survey Professional Papers, 347.

Horton R. (1945) – Erosional development of streams and their drainage basins; hydrological approach to quantitative morphology. Bulletin of the Geological Society of America 56, 275-370.

Jovanovic P.S. (1940) – Les Profils Fluviatiles en Long, leurs Formes et leur Genèse : essai de méthodes morphogénétiques nouvelles. In Zavoianu I. (Ed.) Morphometry of Drainage Basins. Developments in Water Science 20, 1985, 238 p.

Kirkby M.J., Chorley R.J. (1967) – Throughflow, overland flow and erosion. Bulletin of the International Association of Scientific Hydrology 12, 5-21.

Labarbera P., Rosso R. (1990) – On the fractal dimension of stream networks. Water Resources Research 26, 2245-2248.

Lane S.N., Richards K.S. (1997) – Linking river channel form and process: Time, space and causality revisited. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 22, 249-260.

Leopold L.B., Langbein W.B. (1962) – The concept of entropy in landscape evolution. United States Geological Survey Professional Papers 500-A.

Lespez L., Clet-Pellerin M., Limondin-Lozouet N., Pastre J.-F., Fontugne M., Marcigny C. (2008) – Fluvial system evolution and environmental changes during the Holocene in the Mue valley (W France). Geomorphology 98, 55-70.

McDowell R.W., Sharpley A.N., Chalmers A.T. (2002) – Land use and flow regime effects on phosphorus chemical dynamics in the fluvial sediment of the Winooski River, Vermont. Ecological engineering 18, 477-487.

Millares A., Gulliver Z., Polo M.J. (2012) – Scale effects on the estimation of erosion thresholds through a distributed and physically-based hydrological model. Geomorphology 153-154, 115-126.

Nicholas A.P., Ashworth P.J., Kirkby M.J., Macklin M.G., Murray T. (1995) – Sediment slugs: Large-scale fluctuations in fluvial sediment transport rates and storage volumes. Progress in Physical Geography 19, 500-519.

Notebaert B., Verstraeten G., Ward P., Rensen H., Van Rompaey A. (2011) – Modeling the sensitivity of sediment and water runoff dynamics to Holocene climate and land use changes at the catchment scale. Geomorphology 126, 18-31.

Piégay H. (1996) – La forêt d'inondation des rivières à forte énergie, un patrimoine écologique à gérer. Annales de Géographie 590, 347-368.

Rasmussen K.R. (2012) – Geomorphology: Flow and form. Nature Geosciences 5, 164-165.

Reid I. (2004) – Flash flood. In Goudie A. (Ed.) Encyclopedia of Geomorphology. Routledge, London, 1156 p.

Rodriguez-Iturbe I., Rinaldo A. (1997)Fractal river basins, chance and self-organization. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 547 p.

Rosso R., Bacchi B., Labarbera P. (1991) – Fractal relation of mainstream length to catchment area in river networks. Water Resources Research 27, 381-387.

Scheidegger A.E. (1972) – Hydrogeomorphology. Journal of Hydrology 20, 193-215.

Schumm S. (1956) – Evolution of drainage system and slopes in badlands at Pearth Amboy. Bulletin of the Geological Society of America 87, 597-646.

Shreve R. (1969) – Stream lengths and basin areas in topologically random channel networks. Journal of Geology 77, 397-414.

Strahler A. (1957) – Quantitative analysis of watershed geomorphology. Transactions of the AGU 38, 913-920.

Tarboton D., Bras R., Rodriguez-Iturbe I. (1990) – Comment on ‘On the fractal dimension of stream networks’ by P. LaBarbera and R. Rosso. Water Resources Research 26, 2243-2244.

Tsukamoto Y. (1961) – An experiment on subsurface flow. Journal of the Japanese Forestry Society 43, 62-67 (in Japanese).

Tucker G.E., Hancock G.R. (2010) – Modelling landscape evolution. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 35, 28-50.

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Cyril Fleurant, Johnny Douvinet et Daniel Delahaye, « Introduction to the thematic issue: "Quantitative hydro-geomorphology" », Géomorphologie : relief, processus, environnement, vol. 19 - n° 1 | 2013, 3-6.

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Cyril Fleurant, Johnny Douvinet et Daniel Delahaye, « Introduction to the thematic issue: "Quantitative hydro-geomorphology" », Géomorphologie : relief, processus, environnement [En ligne], vol. 19 - n° 1 | 2013, mis en ligne le 10 juin 2013, consulté le 22 mars 2017. URL :

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Cyril Fleurant

Université d’Angers – UMR CNRS 6554 LETG – Angers LEESA – 2, boulevard Lavoisier – 49045 Angers Cedex 01 (

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Johnny Douvinet

Université d’Avignon – UMR CNRS 7600 ESPACE – Avignon – 74, rue Louis Pasteur, case 17 – 84029 Avignon Cedex 01 (

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Daniel Delahaye

Université de Caen Basse-Normandie – UMR CNRS 6554 LETG – Caen Géophen – Campus 1, bâtiment A, étage 2 – Esplanade de la Paix – BP 5186 – 14032 Caen Cedex (

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