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C1) Morphodynamics of low-energy rivers

Start: 12/2014
End: 11/2019
Status: Active

Contact details

Jasper Candel

Wageningen University & Research

Download here the summary poster and the PhD thesis related to this project.

Stream flowing into one curved or sinuous channel in the Drentsche Aa area in the Netherlands (Source: National Park Drentsche Aa).

Project output

Insights for river restoration on the formation and lateral activity of rivers with low-erosive power.


In restoration projects in lowland areas such the Netherlands, rivers and streams flowing into one sinuous or curved channel are often seen as “natural” and used as reference. However, due to its low erosive power, it is unknown when and how these river or streams took that shape and whether they laterally migrate in the past. Therefore, predictions over the future changes in the river shape should consider how the rivers evolve over a longer time scale or geological period. The alignment of restoration projects with this past behaviour is expected to reduce maintenance efforts due to the undesired lateral migration.

Key goals: Fundamental understanding Innovative monitoring

Top: Surveyance of field deposits with sophisticated (Ground penetrating radar) and traditional equipment to sample fluvial deposits.
Bottom: Combination of historical maps and soil type dating of fluvial deposits.

Innovative components

To better estimate how will the river migrate after a restoration project takes place, we chose streams and river locations that in the past had either limited or drastic changes in their lateral channel activity. We mapped the profile of fluvial deposits over the last 12.000 years by combining multiple methods for the surveyance and dating the geological period of deposited sediments. For a river channel that changed from laterally stable to meandering river approximately 500 years ago, we further reconstructed the historical discharge by looking at the relation between the hydraulics and the history of the channel and floodplain formation both from available maps and the surveyance of fluvial deposits.

For whom and where?

  • Organizations that are interested in restoring the natural flowing conditions of rivers and streams in the Netherlands and abroad;
  • Project managers of restoration projects that are interested to predict the lateral activity of rivers to adjust their design or plan maintenance efforts.

Data-collection methods: Field survey measurements Historical approach

Temporal scale: Periods of Earth history

Application and findings


Our findings show how low-energy rivers have functioned in the past, which provide valuable insight in how restored low-energy rivers might function in the future. We found that low-energy rivers are less mobile than often believed, and bends are formed either by very slow processes (oblique aggradation in peatland areas) or in a very short time scale after human pressure on the land use. Many low-energy rivers tend to constrain their own planform within their erosion-resistant deposits, causing them to be laterally stable. Water managers have told that they use these historical insights in their new design for the restored rivers. They also make use of the corings and reconstructed palaeodischarges to compare them with the current river system. For further details see the list of available research outputs here.

Status for day-to-day practice

Rivers are not just a line in the landscape, but the subsurface is essential for the understanding of future river morphodynamics. More emphasis can be put on mapping the subsurface to better plan river restoration.

Locations where we studied the historical evolution of the river.

Spatial scale: Reach River section

Key locations: Dommel stream (NL) Drentsche Aa stream (NL) IJssel River (NL) Overijsselse Vecht stream (NL)

Next steps

The conceptual models and combined field work and historical analysis should be applied in other study areas to confirm these findings in similar natural settings or areas where restoration projects are taking place.

Last updated: 10/02/2020

Explore the contact details to get to know more about the researchers, the supervisory team and the organizations that contribute to this project.

Main researcher

Jasper Candel

Wageningen University & Research

Supervisory team

dr. Bart Makaske

Wageningen University & Research

prof. dr. Jakob Wallinga

Wageningen University & Research

prof. dr. Maarten Kleinhans

Contributing partners

As soon as available, explore the storyline to get to know more about the main methods or prototype tools that were developed within this project.

How do bends form in peat-land streams?

We propose a conceptual model to explain the origin of bends in peatland streams to better inform stream restoration.

Jasper Candel

Wageningen University & Research

View storyline

Explore the output details for available publications to get a glance of the innovative components and implications to practice as well as the links to supporting datasets.

Project outputs

Change from a laterally stable to meandering river – a reconstruction of the historical discharge

We show how the Overijsselse Vecht river changed from a laterally stable to a meandering river ca. 500 years ago and further developed a methodology to reconstruct the historical discharge.

31/08/2018 by Jasper Candel et al.

View details View publication

Contains: Dataset access Publication open access

Oblique aggradation: a novel explanation for sinuosity of low‐energy streams in peat‐filled valley systems

We inform stream restoration in peat-filled valleys by looking at the relative position of the erodible material to explain the origin of the stream bends in the Drentsche Aa area.

07/12/2016 by Jasper Candel et al.

View details View publication

Contains: Dataset access Publication open access Storyline for practice

Take a look to the dissemination efforts and application experiences which are available in the news items and blogs.



Rivercare Knowledge afternoon

‘From science to the practice of the hydro-morphological functioning of streams’

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Symposium on River, Coastal and Estuarine Morphodynamics 2017 in Padova (Italy)

Seven intrepid researchers took part on one of the most important conferences on the field.

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Learn from the subsurface to let rivers sway again

31/08/2018 by Jasper Candel

Insights from the historical evolution of the Overijsselse Vecht shows that river restoration and water management in the hinterland can not be seen separately...

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The stream evolution is also interesting for managers and people living close to the stream

08/03/2017 by Jasper Candel

Fieldwork insights and novel theories that were found by drilling into the past are told for everyone who wants to know more about it.

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All news


Rivercare floodplain


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Anything to ask or share?

About us

We would like to learn from your experiences and questions to take our knowledge further into practice in the Netherlands and abroad. Your feedback will help us to find out about your interests and how useful the information provided was to you.