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GEOS 302 Rivers & Fluvial Deposits

Fluvial Systems

River deposystems and their components 1) transport systems 2) zones of accumulation

Bow River, Banff Natl. Park

A. Cohen Photo

Importance of Fluvial Systems

Environmental issues: flooding water transport agriculture soil erosion nutrient transport

Importance of Fluvial Systems

Resource issues -Facies models for hydrocarbon plays and groundwater reservoirs -Sensitivity to changes in climate and tectonics

Channeled Scablands WA Megaflood Bedforms

Fluvial Channels as Hydrocarbon Reservoirs Sands


Subenvironments in Fluvial Systems

Channels Levees Floodplains Lakes Swamps

Classification of Fluvial Systems

Classification-based on shape # and stability of channels Sinuosity index (S) = Lthalweg (deepest part of channel) / Lvalley Meandering (sinuosity >2) -single channel, broad floodplains, channels moderately stable -channel migration

Classification of Fluvial Systems

Anastomosed -multiple, stable channels -prominent levees, extensive wetlands & vegetated islands
l. MacKenzie River Canada), Utrecht U. r. Columbia R., CA H Berendsen Photo

Classification of Fluvial Systems

Braided -multiple, shallow, unstable channels -for a given discharge higher slopes than meandering streams -mid channel bars -floodplains and levees less important


Why one type of river vs. another? Controlling Variables for Fluvial Systems
Flow Characteristics: (Controlling variables: amplitude, periodicity, amount of change) Independent variables: Slope (tectonic controls) Sediment load (amount and particle size) Discharge/variability (climatic control) Bed roughness

Meandering Stream Facies Model

Most typical of humid regions zones of more constant discharge, moderate slope conditions) Channel morphology and channel floor deposits thalweg, x-sectional asymmetry, cut banks, cross-overs, marginal point bars)


Graph data from Smith 1993

Meandering Stream Facies Helical Flow

Downstream transport -superelevation of water surface on outside bends (nb typo) -pressure differential causes secondary helical flow

Meandering Stream Facies Helical Flow

Particle size fining up point bar with reduced shear stress

.. . ...... .. .. .. .. . .. .

Lateral Accretion

Lateral Accretion


Point Bar- Fining Upwards Sequences

From channel bottom upwards: 1-Basal erosion 2-Large 3-D ripples and large-scale troughs 3-Small troughs and planar x-beds 4-Lower flow regime plane beds 5-Suspension settling
Nichols, 2009

Rt. Shinarump Cgl.-Chinle Fm. Triassic

(A. Cohen photo)

Below- Basal erosion and channel deposits Large-scale troughs (Nichols, 2009)

Meander migration and cutoff

Epsilon-cross bedding & Lateral Accretion Surfaces Often w/superimposed, large straight crested or 3-D ripples)

Channel Migration-Epsilon Cross Bedding

Nichols, 2009

Nichols 2009


Natural Levees & Crevasse Splays

Point Bar- Channel, Lateral Accretion and Fining Upwards Sequence

Crevasse Splay Deposits

Rapid loss of flow competence-Climbing ripples Crevasse Splays-Tabular sheet sands and muds -thin and fine away from levee
Nichols, 2009

Oxbow Lakes
Gradual channel abandonment

Below-Chinle Climbing Ripples-Crevasse Splay



Oxbow Lake Deposits

Organic-rich mudstones, coals

Overbank Deposits
Morrison Fm., Colo (l). Fines (silts & paleosols, roots, organic rich) Right-Floodplain deposits (location unknown)

Crevasse Splay Sands

Channel Sands
Paul Heller photo Gary Nichols photo

Meandering Stream Deposit Fossils

Fossils-moderately common, abraded bones/wood in channels, plants/roots, bones, molluscs, traces in overbank and oxbows
Morrison Fm. Tidwell Mbr burrow Morrison Fm dinosaur bones Chinle Fm. Petrified Wood

Stratigraphic Geometry of Meandering Stream Deposits Tabular sands encased in mud rocks (muds predominate) -Epsilon x-beds & fining up sequences characteristic of sands -Abundant and extensive paleosols
Chinle Fm (Petrified Forest) Morrison Fm. CO

P. Heller photo


Form where abundant accomodation space exists for vertical aggradation of channel and bed. Low slope conditions -e.g.: behind dams, during rapid subsidence, rising base level.

Anastomosing Rivers-Formation

Saskatchewan R. N. Smith photo

Anastomosing River Channels

Channels: Multiple, often (but not always) low sinuosity channels -stable position -Dynamics characterized by avulsion rather than migration -Gravels, trough and planar x-bedded sands, ripple x-laminated sands

Anastomosing River Levees and Overbank Deposits

Levees-vertically accreting alluvial ridges-eventually destabilize ripple lam. sands, massive or mottled silts Overbank deposits -massive or mottled silts, micritic ls., coals

L. Cosumnes R. (U.C. Davis photo). R. Upper Columbia R. (H. Berendsen photo)



Anastomosing River Deposit Geometry

Isolated shoestring sand channels from avulsion (100-1000m wide, 10s of m thick, 10s of km long) Encased in mudrocks (overbank, wetland deposits) Fossils-coals/plant fossils in overbank Levee Sr, Fsm Crevasse Splay Sr, Sp, Sm Channel Sands St, Sp, Sh

Braided Rivers

Shoestring Sand Paleochannel

Wetlands, Overbank Fm, Fcm Bioturbated, paleosols

Form under conditions of high, mobile sediment supply and high slope -Characterized by multiple, mid channel bars (large scale bedforms). -On scale of channel depth these are large features -Multiple unstable, shallow channels-low sinuosity

Braided River Bars

Active during floods of entire channel belt Size- 100s-1000s m long, 10s-100s m wide, few-15m high

Longitudinal Bars
Tear drop shaped, elongate downstream pointing downstream, -typical of channel center in gravelly streams -fine downstream so coarsen upsection as bar migrates -often imbricated) Toutle R., longitudinal bars. Flow to right.


P. Heller photo


Look like large ripples -typical of sandy systems -often well developed slipface -often assoc. w/ 3-D ripples climbing bar and in channel Platte R-transverse bars

Transverse Bars

Braided Streams: Facies Associations

Bar deposits mostly x-strat. or planar strat. sands & gravels Overbank-minor, weak facies development Fossils rare/abraded

Braided Stream Deposit Ancient Example The Auriferous Gravels-Eocene, California

Distinguishing Stream Types in the Stratigraphic Record

Feature Fossils Meandering Anastomosing Braided Uncommon Common (verts, inverts, Common (verts, plants, esp. in fines, inverts, plants, in large bones in channels) fines, large bones in channels) Intermediate Mud dominated, sands Mud dominated, in tabular sheets, fining sands in shoeup strings, fine up Sheet sands. Epsilon xbeds and lateral accretion from channel migration V. important (paleosols, mottled & rooted, crevasse splays, coals)

Paleocurrents Highly variable Textures/ fabric

Relatively invariant Sand-gravel dominated, bars may coarsen up, imbrication

Sand body geometry

Lenticular channel Bars highly variable, forms, shoestring stacked multistory sands bars common V. important like meandering Relatively uncommon and unimportant

Associated floodplain deposits


Facies Architecture Differences between stream types (from Tornqvist, 1993)