River Morphology

This website aims at providing you some information on river morphology in general, as well as the research on river morphology and sediment transport at the Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, section Hydraulic Engineering.

This website aims at providing you some information on river morphology in general, as well as the research on river morphology and sediment transport at the Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, section Hydraulic Engineering.

River morphology in general

With "River morphology" we refer to the field of science dealing with changes of river planform and cross-section shape due to sedimentation and erosion processes. In this field the dynamics of flow and sediment transport are principal elements. Practically all rivers are subject to morphological processes. The "Delft school of River Morphology" stands for the research approach at Delft University of Technology and Delft Hydraulics. We believe that research on river morphology must comprise a well-tuned balance of four components: field surveys, laboratory experiments, mathematical modelling and theoretical analyses.

River morphology at Delft University of Technology

As part of our hydraulic engineering group a long experience has been built up on this topic. River morphology, and river engineering in general at Delft University is managed by Prof. dr. ir. W.S.J. Uijttewaal. Furthermore ir. H. Havinga, dr.ir. Z.B. Wang, dr.ir. E. Mosselman and dr.ir. C.J. Sloff assist in educational and research activities with respect to these subjects.Moreover, river morphological research at the University is carried out by several PhD and Masters students. Part of this research is carried out in frameworks, and in co-operation with other institutes or universities.

River morphology is a relevant and interesting topic when dealing with river-engineering questions. Due to sediment-transport processes the cross-section and planform of alluvial rivers may change continuously. These rivers are therefore difficult to restrain and difficult to describe in terms of models. Two examples are given.

For design and maintenance of rivers, and the constructions within a river it is necessary that this behaviour is well understood. For instance this knowledge may be used to design and protect a bridge such that it will not collapse due to erosion caused by a severe flood (see example from Turkey in the photograph). Predictions using mathematical models (or scale models in laboratories) are commonly used, however there is still a lot to learn about their accuracy and a lot to improve on the model concepts.

Furthermore it is inevitable that natural or human interferences in a river will affect this morphological behaviour. At Delft University the research and education program is aiming at understanding and describing the relevant morphological processes and phenomena. Special attention is paid to actual modelling (physical and conceptual models), to their analysis, and to the study of phenomena in field and laboratory. The new knowledge is expected to be beneficial for river-engineering decisions, for instance for an improved design of protection for bridge piers as in the example above.


River morphological research at the University is carried out by several PhD and Masters students. The type of projects varies from mono-disciplinary (e.g. interaction 3D flow and graded-sediment mixtures) to multi-disciplinary (e.g. ecomorphology). Furthermore, it is one of the aims to co-operate as much as possible with other research groups and other organisations. In the following more details and information can be found on:

  • Participation in frameworks and co-operation with other institutes (examples);
  • examples of ongoing research projects with PhD students;
  • examples of other planned and ongoing research projects.

Frameworks and co-operation

With respect to co-ordination of research programs and funding of projects the research is often carried out in co-operation with other institutes, companies and universities. Examples are:

In the following list a selection is given of some ongoing research projects, as well as envisaged research issues

Short Description



Analysis of river-meandering processes

Alessandra Crosato

Mathematical modelling of subaqueous dunes in rivers. Detailed hydraulic modelling is combined with semi-empirical models for sediment transport accouting for small-scale hydraulics. Aim is to develop physics-based predictors for these dunes.

Mohamed Nabi

Migrating sub-channels in the Yangtze River. This study focusses on the prediction of migrating channels or pools in the Jiujiang reach which endanger the stability of the river dikes.

Li Yu (PhD)
in collobaration with Hohai University, Nanjing, China

Biogeomorphological developments in flood plains subject to cyclic rejuvenation. See for more details on lab- and fieldexperiments regarding the interaction between vegetation and morphology, at: www.biogeomorphology.org

Martin Baptist (PhD)
Graduated 18-04-2005

Stochastic modelling of river morphology. In this project is searched for techniques to model incertainties in morphological simulations, and the principles that mainly determine these incertainties in the Dutch Rhine branches.

Hanneke van der Klis (PhD)
Graduated 19-11-2003

Probabilistic modelling of long-term Lowland river morphology. Within this study the use of probabilistic and stochastic approaches is studied for application to the Rhine River in the Netherlands.

Saskia van Vuren (PhD)
Graduated 22-12-2005

Large-scale effects of groynes in the River Rhine. Study to the morphological development of the river bed near groynes and within the groyne field.

Mohammed Yossef (PhD)
Graduated 21-11-2005

Bottom Vanes, used to modify the flow pattern (spiral flow) and sediment-transport direction in river bends and diversions.

TU Delft in collobaration with BUET University, Dhaka, Bangladesh


Examples of other planned and ongoing research projects


Short description


Experimental and theoretical research to effect of transverse bed slope on transport of graded sediment. This effect is considered to be very relevant for the bed development in river bends but still not well understood.

Sediment transport at river bifurcations, aiming at untangling the complex interaction between flow and alluvial bed using 3D morphological models combined with experimental data.

Development of channels and braiding in 2D morphological models.

Sedimentation in floodplains during floods. This project focusses on the prediction of sedimentation rates, for instance by analysing and quantifying the relations between observed sedimentation patterns, and flow patterns during a flood.

Flow and morphology of the Allier (France). Combined research of Universities of Delft and of Utrecht.

Cyclic flood-plain rejuvenation and innovative sand mining technology (in collobaration with University of Nijmegen)

etcetera, see also "afstudeeronderwerpen rivierwaterbouwkunde en morfologie" (in Dutch).






  • Document containing some commonly used equations for river morphology (223k): [pdf] Aide Memoire Morphology
  • Document containing some commonly used equations for river flow (52k): [pdf] Aide Memoire Flow
  • E-book 1D Morphodynamics of Rivers and Turbidity Currents from Gary Parker (University of Illinois) (several documents): E-book of Gary Parker
  • Publications from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (engineering manuals, etc): USACE Manuals
  • Online Publication "Geomorphology from space": Geomorphology from space
  • USGS Suspended Sediment Database (daily values of susp. sediment in rivers in USA): USGS susp. sediment database
  • Position paper (importance, prespectives topics, etc.) on fluvial geomorphology from the Committee on Applied Fluvial Geomorphology of the Assocation of American Geographers: Position Paper (doc-file) or Position Paper (local)
  • A list of recommended text books for teaching, prepared by an IAHR Fluvial Hydraulics Section Task Force chaired by Prof Ana Maria da Silva, has been compiled following an open discussion on rivers-list. The file can be found on the IAHR website (River Engineering Textbooks), or can be directly downloaded as a [MS-Word] file.
  • SOBEK-RE exercise for students at IHE-Unesco: pdf-document.

Of course we cannot fully guarantee the quality of all downloadable materials, so we are not responsible for inaccuracies.


  • Course CT 3340 Rivierwaterbouwkunde: see Blackboard (limited access :-( )
  • Course CT 5311 River Dynamics (including lecture notes): see Blackboard (limited access :-( )


Dictionaries and glossaries

  • TU-Delft glossary on river morphology (125k): [pdf] Glossary Morphology and glossary on bio-geomorphology (336k): [pdf] Glossary Biogeomorphology
  • Cemagref Dictionary of hydrological engineering English - French - Armenian - Russian - Polish - Romanian - Arabic, including many river morphology terms: Dictionary of Hydrological Engineering
  • UNESCO/WMO International glossary of hydrology (many languages) (Pierre Hubert): International glossary of hydrology
  • USGS Science in Your Watershed: An extensive list of hydrologic and morphological definitions from the Manual of Hydrology (Langbein and Iseri): USGS hydrologic definitions
  • Glossary of Virtual Knowledge Centre of Hydraulics Section of TU-Delft (dutch and english section): TU-Delft Glossary
  • Glossary of World Wide Web Pages for dam design (Durham University): Dam design Glossary
  • Glossary of hydraulic terms of US-Army Waterways Experiment Station, Vicksburg (limited number of terms): WES Glossary

Research projects and networks

  • Morphological Triangle (NCR Morfologische Driehoek): NCR theme Morphological Triangle
  • Committee on Applied Fluvial Geomorphology of the Assocation of American Geographers (AAG-GSG): Goto Geomorphology
  • Bedload Research International Cooperative: Bedloadresearch.org
  • European Centre for River Restoration: ECRR.org
  • Grand Canyon Flood (biggest experiment ever in a river): Grand Canyon Flood
  • Rivernet, the server for living rivers(European Rivers Network): Rivernet
  • IRN, International Rivers Network (world rivers and dams info): IRN
  • US Army Corps of Engineers, Waterways Experiment Station (WES) Vicksburg: ERDC Vicksburg
  • US Army Corps of Engineers, River Engineering Center, St. Louis district (Mississippi links): River Engineering Center
  • Homepage of the U.S. Geological Survey (includes mapping, publications, etc.): US Geological Survey
  • Fluvial sediment page of the US Geological Survey: USGS sediment
  • EPSRC Network on Morphology and Sediment Dynamics of River Floodplain Systems (UK): EPSRC
  • UK Rivers network (Rivers in UK and Ireland): UK Rivers Network
  • CFD Online (online center for Computational Fluid Dynamics): CFD Online
  • Italian Centre for River Restoration (CIRF): CIRF (English) or CIRF (Italian)
  • Dutch Start-Page for "Rivieren" (general): Rivieren Pagina (Dutch)


  • International Erosion Control Assoc. (IECA): IECA
  • International Commission On Large Dams (ICOLD): ICOLD
  • NETHCOLD (Dutch branch of ICOLD)
  • International Hydropower Association (IHA): IHA
  • The World Commission on Dams (WCD)
  • Netherlands Centre for River Studies (NCR): NCR