Field measurements and morphodynamic simulations were carried out along a 5-km reach of the sandy, braided, lower Tana River in order to detect temporal and spatial variations in river bed modifications and to determine the relative importance of different magnitude discharges on river bed and braid channel evolution during a time span of one year, i.e. 2008–2009. Fulfilling these aims required testing the morphodynamic model's capability to simulate changes in the braided reach. We performed the simulations using a 2-D morphodynamic model and different transport equations. The survey showed that more deposition than erosion occurred during 2008–2009. Continuous bed-load transport and bed elevation changes of ±1 m, and a 70–188-m downstream migration of the thalweg occurred. Simulation results indicated that, during low water periods, modifications occurred in both the main channel and in other braid channels. Thus, unlike some gravel-bed rivers, the sandy lower Tana River does not behave like a single-thread channel at low discharge. However, at higher discharge, i.e. exceeding 497 m3/s, the river channel resembled a single-thread channel when channel banks confined the flow. Although the spring discharge peaks caused more rapid modifications than slower flows, the cumulative volumetric changes of the low water period were greater. The importance of low water period flows for channel modifications is emphasized. Although the 2-D model requires further improvements, the results were nevertheless promising for the future use of this approach in braided rivers. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.