The geometry and kinematics of river dunes were studied in a reach of the Calamus River, Nebraska. During day-long surveys, dune height, length, steepness, migration rate, creation and destruction were measured concurrently with bedload transport rate, flow depth, flow velocity and bed shear stress. Within a survey, individual dune heights, lengths and migration rates were highly variable, associated with their three-dimensional geometry and changes in their shape through time. Notwithstanding this variability, there were discernible changes in mean dune height, length and migration rate in response to changing discharge over several days. Changes in mean dune height and length lagged only slightly behind changes in discharge. Therefore, during periods of both steady and unsteady flow, mean dune lengths were quite close to equilibrium values predicted by theoretical models. Mean dune steepnesses were also similar to predicted equilibrium values, except during high, falling flows when the steepness was above that predicted.

Variations in mean dune height and length with discharge are similar to those predicted by theory under conditions of low mean dune excursion and discharge variation with a short high water period and long low water period. However, the calculated rates of change of height of individual dunes vary considerably from those measured. Rates of dune creation and destruction were unrelated to discharge variations, contrary to previous results. Instead, creations and destructions were apparently the result of local variations in bed shear stress and sediment transport rate.

Observed changes in dune height during unsteady flows agree with theory fairly well at low bed shear stresses, but not at higher bed shear stresses when suspended sediment transport is significant.