Water Resources Research

A Procedure for classifying textural facies in gravel-bed rivers


  • John M. Buffington,

  • David R. Montgomery


Textural patches (i.e., grain-size facies) are commonly observed in gravel-bed channels and are of significance for both physical and biological processes at subreach scales. We present a general framework for classifying textural patches that allows modification for particular study goals, while maintaining a basic degree of standardization. Textures are classified using a two-tier system of ternary diagrams that identifies the relative abundance of major size classes and subcategories of the dominant size. An iterative procedure of visual identification and quantitative grain-size measurement is used. A field test of our classification indicates that it affords reasonable statistical discrimination of median grain size and variance of bed-surface textures. We also explore the compromise between classification simplicity and accuracy. We find that statistically meaningful textural discrimination requires use of both tiers of our classification. Furthermore, we find that simplified variants of the two-tier scheme are less accurate but may be more practical for field studies which do not require a high level of textural discrimination or detailed description of grain-size distributions. Facies maps provide a natural template for stratifying other physical and biological measurements and produce a retrievable and versatile database that can be used as a component of channel monitoring efforts.