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Let's get connected: A new graph theory-based approach and toolbox for understanding braided river morphodynamics

Our understanding of braided river morphodynamics has improved significantly in recent years, however, there are still large knowledge gaps relating to both long‐term and event‐based change in braided river morphologies. Furthermore, we still lack methods that can take full advantage of the increasing availability of remotely sensed datasets that are well suited to braided river research. Network analysis based on graph theory, the mathematics of networks, offers a largely unexplored toolbox that can be applied to remotely sensed data to quantify the structure and function of braided rivers across nearly the full range of spatiotemporal scales relevant to braided river evolution. In this article, important commonalities between braided rivers and other types of complex network are described, providing a compelling argument for the wider uptake of complex network analysis methods in the study of braided rivers. We provide an overview of the extraction of graph representations of braided river networks from remotely sensed data and detail a suite of metrics for quantitative analysis of these networks. Application of these metrics as new tools for multiscale characterization of braided river planforms that improve upon traditional, spatially averaged approaches is discussed and potential approaches to network‐based analysis of braided river dynamics are proposed, drawing on a range of different concepts from braided river research and other network sciences. Finally, the potential for using graph theory metrics to validate numerical models of braided rivers is discussed.
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Connor-Streich, G., Henshaw, A. J., Brasington, J., Bertoldi, W., & Harvey, G. L. (2018). Let’s get connected: A new graph theory-based approach and toolbox for understanding braided river morphodynamics. WIREs Water, 5(5). https://doi.org/10.1002/wat2.1296
This is an author’s accepted version of an article published in the journal: WIREs Water. © 2018 Wiley Periodicals, Inc