Aerial photo-based analysis of the hydromorphological changes of a mountain river over the last six decades: The Czarny Dunajec, Polish Carpathians.

Affiliation

Institute of Nature Conservation, Polish Academy of Sciences, al. Mickiewicza 33, 31-120 Kraków, Poland. Electronic address: [Email]

Abstract

Changes in hydromorphological conditions in the mountainous Czarny Dunajec River over the last six decades were investigated through the analysis of archival aerial photos and contemporary orthophotos. The aerial images from 7 dates between 1954 and 2009 were used to evaluate changes in selected hydromorphological parameters in six reaches delimited along the river course. As a result of channelization works and in-stream gravel mining, most of the analysed river course experienced dramatic hydromorphological alterations in the active river zone: change from the multi-thread to a single-thread channel, river narrowing associated with a reduced occurrence or elimination of channel bars and islands, transformation of the gravelly bed to a bedrock-alluvial or bedrock bed, stabilization of river banks with engineering structures, and disruption of longitudinal river continuity by transverse hydraulic structures. These changes largely reduced habitat heterogeneity in the river and disrupted or limited three-dimensional connectivity of the river ecosystem. However, in the reach that had generally avoided these human pressures, such negative changes did not occur and the number of low-flow channels and the proportion of islands in the active river zone increased during the study period. In all study reaches, positive changes occurred in the riparian and floodplain areas: the proportion of wooded channel banks and forest cover in the floodplain area increased over the last six decades. The degradation of hydromorphological conditions in the active river zone was reflected in a significant impoverishment of fish and benthic invertebrate communities as well as of ground beetles inhabiting low river benches. The study confirmed the usefulness of archival aerial photos in reconstructing temporal changes in river hydromorphology. The number of features that can be evaluated with this approach is smaller than in field-based assessments of contemporary rivers but larger than in studies based on historical maps or paleohydrological analysis.

Keywords

Aerial photos,Habitat degradation,Hydromorphological conditions,Mountain river,River communities,