Skidmore & Wheaton 2022 riverscapes as adaptation infrastructure

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Skidmore, P. and Wheaton, J., 2022. Riverscapes as natural infrastructure: Meeting challenges of climate adaptation and ecosystem restoration. Anthropocene, 38, p.100334.


  • Opinion piece, using emotive language.
  • "Paradoxically, hydraulic inefficiency is a hallmark of a healthy riverscape"
  • Presents "freedom space" as measure of the proportion of floodplain available for river processes.
  • Does not define "river health" in terms of specific functions or ecosystem services, except piecemeal. Assembling this list could help sharpen analysis, with the following described in this article: retain sediment and runoff, recharge alluvial aquafirs, store and slowly release clean water, ecological value for wildlife, carbon sequestration, nutrient capture, streamflow persistence, moderated flood flow, moderated temperature, increased wetland functions.
  • Cites critique of "a preponderance of piece-meal, project-scale tactics that emphasize static habitat and channel reconstruction rather than restoring ecosystem processes that can sustain values over time"
  • References degraded baseline behind modern river restoration concepts: "Ironically, the most common river restoration efforts have focused on re-creating simplified streams with only modest and temporary gains to show for their efforts (Wohl et al., 2015). Because streams have persisted in these altered and simplified states for so long, little conceptual awareness of historical stream condition remains"
  • Identifies Bridge Creek site in OR as first documented experiment in beaver-assisted restoration.
  • Subtle tension between concept of "limiting channel-stabilizing features" (p4) and naturally occurring large log jams which force natural anastomosing channel form, and channel switching.
  • The conceptual principle that "river ecosystems have a tremendous capacity for passive restoration if given the space for dynamic interactions between the channel and floodplain" (p4) doesn't acknowledge that there may be thresholds where intervention is necessary to move a river out of a reinforcing feedback loop of incision (also described in the article).
  • Article does not consider how to think about food security as part of the services provided by floodplains in arid climates.