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U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Science Summary—The Role of Storms on Bank Erosion Rates and Sediment Transport in Urban Areas

(Released March 2017) (PDF Version)
Figure 1 and link to larger image

Figure 1: Location of Upper Difficult, Virginia. Showing locations of channel and floodplain measurements.


Sediment is a major pollutant degrading aquatic ecosystems in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The USGS is conducting studies to determine the relative importance of streambank erosion to other sediment sources, such as upland erosion, in both agricultural and urban areas. The information is necessary so resource managers can focus on the types, and locations, of practices that will be most effective to reduce sediment.

Results of new USGS research

Results of this USGS study were published in the journal “Geomorphology (Gellis and others, 2017). The study of the Difficult Run study area in Northern, VA (Figure 1), found that:

  1. Suspended-sediment yields for streams in the suburban Washington D.C. area are among the highest in Chesapeake Bay watershed.
  2. Streambanks provided a large contribution of sediment that was monitored during the study. However, the findings also suggest that upland sources can also be an important source of sediment.
  3. Storms have a major influence on sediment erosion but there is variability in erosion and deposition rate. For example, Tropical Storm Lee, a 100-year event, was the primary event eroding most sediment from the streambanks in Difficult Run (Figure 2).
  4. Streambank erosion rates are positively correlated to drainage area, and channel top width. Floodplain deposition rates are positively correlated to the active-channel width (Figure 3).

Implications for ecosystem management include:

Source of information

The USGS findings described in this Science Summary is available by accessing the document below, which should be used as the reference for this information:

Gellis, A.C., Myers, M.K. Noe, G.B., Hupp, C.R. Schenk, E.R., and Myers, L., 2017, Storms, channel changes, and a sediment budget for an urban-suburban stream, Difficult Run, Virginia, USA: Geomorphology, v. 278, p.128–148, accessed February 24, 2017.

Additional information about the sediment sources and sediment budgets for the Chesapeake Bay can be found at:

Gellis, A.C., Hupp, C.R., Pavich, M.J., Landwehr, J.M., Banks, W.S.L., Hubbard, B.E., Langland, M.J., Ritchie, J.C., and Reuter, J.M., 2009, Sources, Transport, and Storage of Sediment at Selected Sites in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2008-5186, 95 p.

Devereux, O.H., Prestegaard, K.L., Needelman, B.A., Gellis, A.C., 2010, Suspended-sediment sources in an urban watershed, Northeast Branch Anacostia River, Maryland: Hydrological Processes, v. 24(11), p. 1391 – 1403.

Massoudieh, A., Gellis., A.C., Banks, W.S., and Wieczorek, M.E., 2012, Suspended sediment source apportionment in Chesapeake Bay watershed using Bayesian chemical mass balance receptor modeling: Hydrological Processes, DOI: 10.1002/hyp.9429, published online: 6 JUL 2012.

Gellis, A.C., Noe, G.B., Clune, J.W., Myers, M.K., Hupp, C.R., Schenk, E.R., and Schwarz, G.E., 2015, Sources of fine grained sediment in the Linganore Creek watershed, Frederick and Carroll Counties, Maryland, 2008–10: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2014–5147, 56 p.

Figure 2

Figure 2: Linear (cm/yr) and cross-sectional area streambank changes for measurement periods: Pre Tropical Storm Lee (TS Lee) - 3/2/2010 to 6/4/2011; after TS Lee - 6/5/2011 to 3/21/2012; Pre Super Storm Sandy (SS Sandy) - 3/22/2012 to 10/22/2012; and after SS Sandy - 10/23/2012 to 1/18/2013. TS Lee occurred on September 8, 2011 and Super Storm Sandy occurred on October 29-30, 2012.

Figure 2

Figure 3: Significant variables explaining eroding streambank change and floodplain deposition. (A) Drainage area against linear rates of eroding streambank and (B) channel top width vs. cross-sectional rates of eroding streambanks; (C) channel top width vs. floodplain deposition. [* slope of regression is significant (p = 0.05) and residuals are normally distributed.]

For additional information about this science summary:

Contact Allen Gellis at

For additional information about USGS Chesapeake Bay studies:

Visit the USGS Chesapeake Bay Web site at

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