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A hydrogeomorphic classification of connectivity of large rivers of the Upper Midwest, United States

December 23, 2019

River connectivity is defined as the water-mediated exchange of matter, energy, and biota between different elements of the riverine landscape. Connectivity is an especially important concept in large-river corridors (channel plus floodplain ) because large rivers integrate fluxes of water, sediment, nutrients, contaminants, and other transported constituents emanating from large contributing drainage basins, and thereby contribute to the complexity of large-river ecosystems. Large rivers are also highly valued for socioeconomic goods and services, which has led to historical fragmentation, lack of connectivity, and contentiousness about best policies for managing large-river corridors. The classification is intended to serve as a template for understanding geographic variation in large rivers within the Midwest, to aid in designing scientific studies of large river ecological processes, and to match specific river-management and restoration objectives to specific river reaches. The focus of the classification is on measuring river connectivity from available hydrological and geomorphic data.

We provide a multiscale assessment and classification for segments of 15 rivers that meet various criteria for largeness. All rivers are tributaries to the Mississippi River system. The 11,600 kilometers (km) that qualified as large were classified by major alterations (unimpounded, navigation pools, storage reservoir) and additionally assessed for their network continuity as a function of numbers and heights of dams. Among the 15 rivers, 55 percent of segment length was unimpounded, 30 percent was in navigation pools, and 15 percent was under storage reservoirs. Assessment of network longitudinal connectivity among river segments documented the contrast between river segments with low-head navigation dams (Upper Mississippi, Illinois, Ohio, Green, and Cumberland Rivers) and those segments with high-head dams (mostly in the Upper Missouri River). The longest unimpounded river pathways exist in the Lower Missouri River and connected tributaries where nearly 1,300 km of the Missouri River connect to an additional 1,800 km of the Middle and Lower Mississippi Rivers.

At our finest scale, we present a statistically based, component classification based on 10-km segments. Cluster analysis of hydrologic variables from 66 streamflow-gaging stations yielded 5 clusters calculated from 5 ecohydrological metrics related to lateral connectivity with the floodplain. A separate cluster analysis of 5 geomorphologic variables associated with each of the 1,172 river segments also yielded 5 clusters. When the hydrologic variables were associated with corresponding segments, the cluster analysis yielded 8 hydrogeomorphic clusters that could be explained in terms of their contribution to floodplain connectivity. Although the clusters overlap considerably in principal component space, the resulting hydrogeomorphic classification leads to a physically reasonable distribution of classes. The resulting classification is intended to increase geographic awareness of the range of variation of connectivity potential among large rivers of the Upper Midwest, to increase understanding of the extent of alteration of these rivers, and potentially to serve as a template for stratifying study designs of large-river corridor ecological processes.

Publication Year 2019
Title A hydrogeomorphic classification of connectivity of large rivers of the Upper Midwest, United States
DOI 10.3133/sir20195132
Authors Robert B. Jacobson, Jason J. Rohweder, Nathan R. De Jager
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2019-5132
Index ID sir20195132
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Columbia Environmental Research Center; Upper Midwest Water Science Center