Sear, David A., Wheaton, Joseph M. and Darby, Stephen E.
Uncertain restoration of gravel-bed rivers and the role of
Developments in Earth Surface Processes, Gravel-Bed Rivers VI: From Process Understanding to River Restoration, 11, . (doi:10.1016/S0928-2025(07)11162-7).
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River restoration projects in gravel-bed rivers are becoming increasingly sophisticated
and complex as river managers and scientists attempt to deliver the goals of catchment-
scale ecosystem restoration. With increased sophistication, come the dual challenges
of recognizing and responding to the uncertainty inherent in the restoration
process. Uncertainty is rarely explicitly recognised in current restoration projects and,
where it is, the scope and definition are limited. In this paper we argue that uncertainty
is a fundamental element of river restoration and that the sources of uncertainty are
varied. A typology for understanding and communicating uncertainty in terms of these
sources is presented. One of the myths surrounding uncertainty is the notion that being
uncertain is the same as not knowing anything. In fact, when uncertainty is expressed
as a statement of plausible outcome and/or significance, expressing uncertainty is a
very informative statement of knowledge. The significance of uncertainty is explored
conceptually and quantified for two contrasting examples from two gravel-bed river
restoration projects. Respectively, these demonstrate that uncertainty in the conceptual
model applied to a restoration project can have significant impacts on the restoration
process and that unreliability uncertainties can affect the design of bankfull
channel dimensions. The paper concludes with a discussion of the approaches to
incorporating uncertainty in river restoration projects, and argues for one that embraces
uncertainty. We present an approach for embracing geomorphic uncertainty in
physical habitat restoration, that uses coupled habitat and landscape evolution models
to define the plausible outcomes for a given restoration project.
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