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The AAPG/Datapages Combined Publications Database

Alaska Geological Society


Alaska Geological Society 2005 Geology Symposium, 2005
Page 17

Cold Climate Fluvial Processes: An Integrated Study of the Colville River, Alaska - Abstract

Erin E. Hess,1 Anupma Prakash,2 Paul J. McCarthy3

The Colville River is the largest river on the North Slope of Alaska, draining over 50,000 km2. Temperate fluvial processes cannot be used as analogs for cold climate fluvial processes on the Colville River because of the role ice and permafrost play in the fluvial system and the timing of fluvial processes. During the winter, ice on the Colville River freezes to the bed of the channel, halting the flow of water and transport of sediment (Walker, 1983). Permafrost can cause both extreme stability and instability of the banks of the Colville River due to thermoerosional niching during spring flooding (Scott, 1978). The goal of this research is to better understand cold climate fluvial processes through the use of remote sensing.

Remote sensing is used to analyze the Colville River where the river channel changes from a braided pattern to a meandering one in order to study channel and bar morphology and lateral migration rates. Multisensor data from Thematic Mapper (TM) and Enhanced Thematic Mapper (ETM) onboard the Landsat satellites, Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and data in the fine beam mode of the RADARSAT satellite, and digital orthographic quadrangle photographs from 2002 have been obtained through the Alaska Satellite Facility and Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF), for use in this study. In addition, aerial photographs from 1948 and false-color near-infrared (NIR) photos from 1979 have been obtained through the Map Office at the Geophysical Institute, UAF. By comparing these images in ERDAS Imagine, both long-term and seasonal changes in channel morphology as well as channel bar and flat evolution can be observed and will be used to determine locations for field investigations.

Preliminary results from image analysis show vegetated and nonvegetated channel bars as well as major, minor, and abandoned channels of the Colville River. Some channel bars appear to be eroded and sometimes completely destroyed over time, while others appear to be growing laterally or being reworked. Vegetation on several channel bars appears to be expanding. In addition, both the major and minor channels of the Colville River appear to laterally migrate over time, destroying and building new channel bars as they migrate.

Better understanding of present day cold climate fluvial processes and the role ice and permafrost play in the cold climate fluvial system will enhance our understanding of past cold climate fluvial systems by providing a better understanding of bank stability, in-channel processes, and lateral migration rates of cold climate fluvial systems.


Scott, K.M., 1978, Effects of permafrost on stream channel behavior in Arctic Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1068, 19 p.

Walker, H.J., 1983, Guidebook to permafrost and related features of the Colville River Delta, Alaska: Fourth International Conference on Permafrost, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska, U.S.A., July 18–22, 1983, 34 p.

Acknowledgments and Associated Footnotes

1 Erin E. Hess: UAF Department of Geology & Geophysics, 900 Yukon Drive, Fairbanks, AK 99775;

2 Anupma Prakash: UAF Department of Geology & Geophysics, 900 Yukon Drive, Fairbanks, AK 99775

3 Paul J. McCarthy: UAF Department of Geology & Geophysics, 900 Yukon Drive, Fairbanks, AK 99775

Copyright © 2014 by the Alaska Geological Society