Assessing the geomorphic sensitivity of watersheds in response to land-use and climate change
The Spencer Creek watershed in the Hamilton area (Ontario) and includes many regionally important streams such as Ancaster Creek, Spring Creek, Tiffany Creek, and Fletcher Creek. As the many streams of the Spencer Creek watershed flow over the Niagara Escarpment, they provide an impressive array of waterfalls that are a significant recreational attraction. In fact, with over 100 waterfalls, Hamilton is dubbed the "Waterfall Capital of the World"! Surprisingly, little is known about the unique geomorphology of these streams that flow between alluvial, semi-alluvial, and bedrock sections. This project aims to characterize the geomorphology of these streams and to assess their sensitivity to land-use and climate change. A combination of field data collection and a watershed-scale erosion sensitivity model (the "SPIN" tool) will be used to look at both current and future scenarios. Through a collaboration with the APGO Education Foundation, interesting materials and results of this project will be shared through virtual field trips and story maps on GeoscienceINFO. Given the cultural and recreational importance of the Spencer Creek watershed, these publically-available online recourses aim to increase awareness of the geomorphic importance of this unique environment.
Testing the performance of a salmon habitat river restoration project using a scaled model
The Penticton Creek project in British Columbia is a river restoration project to restore salmon habitat in a small urban stream. Although a channel design has been proposed, there remain questions about the stability of the fine gravel that is proposed to be placed in the channel to provide spawning habitat for salmon, especially during large floods. In other words, how will the spawning gravel re-arrange in the channel? or will be washed away during floods? and what size of gravel will be the most stable? To answer these questions, an exact replica of the proposed channel design scaled at 1:30 was carved out of waterproof foam and placed in a large flume in the hydraulics laboratory at the University of Waterloo. The scaled channel model provides the perfect environment to test different sizes and placement arrangements of the spawning gravel and how it will perform under different magnitude floods.
Past Research Highlights by Dr. Papangelakis
How is geomorphology measured in river assessment procedures?
As a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Geography department at the University of British Columbia, I worked in collaboration with Stantec Consulting Ltd. The work was motivated by a lack of quantitative tools for incorporating geomorphology in river assessment and monitoring programs in British Columbia. The project compared the methods currently used against the most recent scientific and technological advances described in the literature. In addition to recommendations provided to Stantec to improve their geomorphic monitoring protocols, the project led to a critical review of 91 river assessment procedures from around the world.
Testing a new watershed-scale erosion risk assessment tool in Etobicoke Creek
This project was completed as a collaboration between the Civil & Environmental Engineering department at the University of Waterloo and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA). The goal of was to design a new erosion risk assessment program and pilot it in the Etobicoke Creek watershed in Toronto. The program is based on a GIS-based tool that uses simple topographic and land-use data to calculate the stream power, a measure of the energy of the flowing water during floods. The novelty of the tool is that it operates at the watershed scale to identify areas of erosion risk both before and after urbanization. Most importantly, the tool allows for the effects of future land-use plans to the erosion risk of the river network to be assessed, which provides municipalities and conservation authorities important information for future watershed management plans.
Can you feed sediment to a river to 'fix' it?
In 2020, I worked as a Postdoctoral Associate in the Department of Geography and Environment at The University of Western Ontario under supervision of Dr. Peter Ashmore. The project focused on semi-alluvial rivers, which have a mobile layer of alluvial material (sand and gravel) that is transported over an immobile bed. This immobile bed is often bedrock, but can also be dense clay and silt like what in Southern Ontario rivers. The alluvial layer is important because it protects the underlying material from erosion and provides the building blocks for aquatic habitats. This project used experiments in a model meandering channel built in a flume to explore how the alluvial layer forms and evolves under different flow and sediment supply conditions. Both water and sediment was fed through the channel, and photogrammetry was used to create 3D maps of the alluvial layer as it formed and changed. The aim was to replicate the processes that occur in semi-alluvial beds in order to assess artificial sediment augmentation (or adding sediment to rivers) as a tool for restoring urban semi-alluvial rivers.
How urbanization, stormwater management, and river restoration affect bedload sediment transport
My doctoral research, supervised by Dr. Bruce MacVicar, was completed through the Collaborative Water Program in the department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of Waterloo. The focus of her work was on the effects of urbanization and various river management strategies on the transport of bed load sediment. A total of 1,500 RFID-tagged tracer stones across three rivers in the Toronto area were tracked to capture how bed sediment travels downstream during floods. The project was nestled within a larger, interdisciplinary project that attempted to understand urban river systems and improve river management practices. Sediment transport is an important river process that is currently not directly accounted for in most restoration design, resulting in high rates of project failure and the continued loss of ecological health. Results from this project provide insights and tools into how to incorporate sediment transport into river management decisions.
Elli Papangelakis, PhD
Fairley Gadsby Research Chair in Fluvial Geomorphology
Office: General Science Building, 231
Google Scholar - ResearchGate - Twitter
School of Earth, Environment & Society
1280 Main St. West, Hamilton, ON