U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Science Summary—The Role of Storms on Bank Erosion Rates and Sediment Transport in Urban Areas

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Sediment is a major pollutant degrading aquatic ecosystems in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The USGS is conducting studies to determine the relative importance of streambank erosion to other sediment sources, such as upland erosion, in both agricultural and urban areas. The information is necessary so resource managers can focus on the types, and locations, of practices that will be most effective to reduce sediment.

Results of new USGS research

Results of this USGS study were published in the journal “Geomorphology (Gellis and others, 2017). The study of the Difficult Run study area in Northern, VA (Figure 1), found that:

1. Suspended-sediment yields for streams in the suburban Washington D.C. area are among the highest in Chesapeake Bay watershed.

2. Streambanks provided a large contribution of sediment that was monitored during the study. However, the findings also suggest that upland sources can also be an important source of sediment.

3. Storms have a major influence on sediment erosion but there is variability in erosion and deposition rate. For example, Tropical Storm Lee, a 100-year event, was the primary event eroding most sediment from the streambanks in Difficult Run (Figure 2).

4. Streambank erosion rates are positively correlated to drainage area, and channel top width. Floodplain deposition rates are positively correlated to the active-channel width (Figure 3).


Implications for ecosystem management include:

  • Information and approaches from this study Information and approaches from this study can be used to focus restoration efforts on areas of high bank erosion in suburban/urban areas.
  • Higher-order streams (fourth order) have the highest rates of streambank erosion, and fourth and fifth order streams have the highest rates of floodplain deposition. Therefore, erosion control practices should be considered for the higher order streams.
  • The variability observed in streambank erosion rates, both spatially and temporally, reinforces the need for long-term monitoring programs on channel change.

Source of information

The USGS findings described in this Science Summary is available by accessing the document below, which should be used as the reference for this information:

Gellis, A.C., Myers, M.K. Noe, G.B., Hupp, C.R. Schenk, E.R., and Myers, L., 2017, Storms, channel changes, and a sediment budget for an urban-suburban stream, Difficult Run, Virginia, USA: Geomorphology, v. 278, p.128–148, https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/70180363 accessed February 24, 2017.


Additional information about the sediment sources and sediment budgets for the Chesapeake Bay can be found at:

Gellis, A.C., Hupp, C.R., Pavich, M.J., Landwehr, J.M., Banks, W.S.L., Hubbard, B.E., Langland, M.J., Ritchie, J.C., and Reuter, J.M., 2009, Sources, Transport, and Storage of Sediment at Selected Sites in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2008-5186, 95 p. https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/sir20085186.

Devereux, O.H., Prestegaard, K.L., Needelman, B.A., Gellis, A.C., 2010, Suspended-sediment sources in an urban watershed, Northeast Branch Anacostia River, Maryland: Hydrological Processes, v. 24(11), p. 1391 – 1403.

Massoudieh, A., Gellis., A.C., Banks, W.S., and Wieczorek, M.E., 2012, Suspended sediment source apportionment in Chesapeake Bay watershed using Bayesian chemical mass balance receptor modeling: Hydrological Processes, DOI: 10.1002/hyp.9429, published online: 6 JUL 2012.

Gellis, A.C., Noe, G.B., Clune, J.W., Myers, M.K., Hupp, C.R., Schenk, E.R., and Schwarz, G.E., 2015, Sources of fine grained sediment in the Linganore Creek watershed, Frederick and Carroll Counties, Maryland, 2008–10: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2014–5147, 56 p. http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2014/5147/.


Location of Upper Diffcult, Virginia - Locations of channel an floodplain measurements

Location of Upper Difficult, Virginia. Showing locations of channel and floodplain measurements


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