Remote sensing analysis of physical complexity of North Pacific Rim rivers to assist wild salmon conservation

Matthew Luck, NIels Maumenee, Diane Whited, John Lucotch, Samantha Chilcote, Mark Lorang, Daniel Goodman, Kyle Mcdonald, John Kimball, Jack Stanford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Salmon populations are highly variable in both space and time. Accurate forecasting of the productivity of salmon stocks makes effective management and conservation of the resource extremely challenging. Furthermore, widespread and consistent data on the productivity of species-specific and total salmon stocks in a river are almost nonexistent. Ranking rivers based on physical complexity derived from remote sensing allows rivers to be objectively compared. Our approach considered rivers with great geomorphic complexity (e.g. having expansive, multi channeled floodplains and/or on-channel lakes) as likely to have greater productivity of salmon than rivers flowing in constrained or canyon-bound channels. Our objective was to develop a database of landscape metrics that could be used to rank the rivers in relation to potential salmon productivity. We then examined the rankings in relation to existing empirical (monitoring) data describing productivity of salmon stocks. To extract the metrics for each river basin we used a digital elevation model and multi spectral satellite imagery. We developed procedures to extract channel networks, floodplains, on-channel lakes and other catchment features; variables such as catchment area, channel elevation, main channel length, floodplain area, and density of hydro junctions (nodes) were measured. We processed 1509 catchments in the North Pacific Rim including the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia and western North America. Overall, catchments were most physically complex in western Kamchatka and western Alaska, and particularly on the Arctic North Slope of Alaska. We could not directly examine coherence between potential and measured productivity except for a few rivers, but the expected relationship generally held. The resulting database and systematic ranking are objective tools that can be used to address questions about landscape structure and biological productivity at regional to continental extents, and provide a way to begin to efficiently prioritize the allocation of funding and resources towards salmon management and conservation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1330-1343
Number of pages14
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number11
StatePublished - Sep 15 2010


  • Geomorphology
  • Physical complexity
  • Ranking
  • Rivers
  • Salmon


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