Migrating rivers, consequent paleochannels: The unlikely partners and hotspots of flooding

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Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences


Furious floods have become an omnipresent reality with the dawn of climate change and its transition to adulthood. Since climate change has now become an accepted reality, analysing the factors that favour or disfavour floods are an urgent requirement. Here we showcase the role of paleochannels, a product of migrating rivers, in a catastrophic flood in the south-western part of the Indian Peninsula. This study exposes whether these geomorphic features facilitate or impede floods. For the purpose of extracting paleochannels and floodwater mapping, we utilized multiple satellite datasets and took advantage of diversified feature selection algorithms. Paleochannels were demarcated viz., initial identification of a few paleochannels from literature and confirmation through high-resolution Google Earth (GE) images, followed by Principal Component Analysis (PCA) of Sentinel-2 images using Google Earth Engine (GEE), and a supervised classification of the principal bands 1, 2, and 3. False-positives were eliminated using Object-Oriented Analysis (OOA), which reduced the 964,254 polygons to 23,254. These polygons were visually affirmed using GE images that resulted in 115 paleochannels as the final collection. A few locations were verified through Vertical Electrical Sounding (VES) using the Schlumberger method. The features were analysed with the floodwaters of the 2018 catastrophic flood, extracted from Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data, which was delineated for different temporal limits including the day of peak flood of August 17, 2018. During the peak flood, the inundation of the study area extended to 534.86 km2 with all the paleochannels getting immersed in floodwater. After 44 days of peak flood, the post-flood analysis revealed that when the floodwater receded 50%, the paleochannels emptied 87.39%, with the midland paleochannels discharging more than those of lowlands. Thus, such geomorphic features can be flood hotspots, but can be considered for discharging floodwater to mitigate flood risk in case of unprecedented rain.

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The Science of the total environment