riparian rap

Riparian Buffers: Vegetation Experiments in an Emriver Model

By Erin Cotter, Research Assistant and Prototyper at LRRD

Vegetation plays a large role in erosion regulation.  Understanding and utilizing the benefits of riparian buffers can help improve conservation efforts and, according to a recent study, increase agricultural economic returns.  Researchers Horton et al. sought to find if retaining riparian buffers along the rivers of tropical oil palm plantations (rather than bringing crops to the water’s edge) would be economically beneficial.  Using imagery and numerical modeling over a simulated 100-year period, they found the amount of land lost to lateral channel migration in the no-buffer scenario was significantly higher than the losses with a riparian buffer.  Their results indicate that over extended time periods, riparian buffers could increase the economic returns of the plantations while at the same time meet some environmental sustainability and conservation goals.

Our Emriver geomodels can provide impressive and accurate physical modeling of this phenomenon.

In the video below, we used our Em3 geomodel to experiment with the effects of riparian and shoreline vegetation.  For our first experiment, we observed a river channel as it underwent three floods.  The river has two meanders: one with vegetation and one without.  With each flood we observed the buffered meander retaining its position, while the non-buffered cut bank eroded away.  For our second experiment, we simulated a beachfront neighborhood with and without a mangrove forest.  The beach eroded away considerably faster without mangroves and flooded the town.  In these short experiments, we are able to see the drastic difference vegetation has on riparian and shoreline erosion.