Sediment Routing and Floodplain Exchange (SeRFE): A Spatially Explicit Model of Sediment Balance and Connectivity Through River Networks

Jordan T. Gilbert, Andrew C. Wilcox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Sediment regimes, i.e., the processes that recruit, transport, and store sediment, create the physical habitats that underpin river-floodplain ecosystems. Natural and human-induced disturbances that alter sediment regimes can have cascading effects on river and floodplain morphology, ecosystems, and a river's ability to provide ecosystem services, yet prediction of the response of sediment dynamics to disturbance is challenging. We developed the Sediment Routing and Floodplain Exchange (SeRFE) model, which is a network-based, spatially explicit framework for modeling sediment recruitment to and subsequent transport through drainage networks. SeRFE additionally tracks the spatially and temporally variable balance between sediment supply and transport capacity. Simulations using SeRFE can account for various types of watershed disturbance and for channel-floodplain sediment exchange. SeRFE is simple, adaptable, and can be run with widely available geospatial data and limited field data. The model is driven by real or user-generated hydrographs, allowing the user to assess the combined effects of disturbance, channel-floodplain interactions and particular flow scenarios on the propagation of disturbances throughout a drainage network, and the resulting impacts to reaches of interest. We tested the model in the Santa Clara River basin, Southern California, in subbasins affected by large dams and wildfire. Model results highlight the importance of hydrologic conditions on postwildfire sediment yield and illustrate the spatial extent of dam-induced sediment deficit during a flood. SeRFE can provide contextual information on reach-scale sediment balance conditions, sensitivity to altered sediment regimes, and potential for morphologic change for managers and practitioners working in disturbed watersheds.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2020MS002048
JournalJournal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


  • river connectivity
  • sediment balance
  • sediment modeling
  • sediment transport
  • watershed disturbance


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