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ABSTRACT

The geological record is punctuated by the deposits of extreme event phenomena, the identification and interpretation of which are hindered by a lack of data on contemporary examples. It is impossible to directly observe sedimentary bedforms and grain fabrics forming under natural particle-transporting, high-velocity currents, and therefore, their characteristics are poorly documented. The deposits of such flows are exposed however, in the dry bed of the Burdekin River, Queensland, Australia following tropical cyclone-induced floods.

Long wave-length (up to 19 m) gravel antidunes develop during short (days) high-discharge flows in the upper Burdekin River (maximum recorded discharge near the study reach over 25 600 m3 s−1 in February 1927). Flood water levels fall quickly (metres in a day) and flow is diverted away from raised areas of the river bed into subchannels, exposing many of the high-stage bedforms with little reworking by falling-stage currents. Gravel bedforms were observed on the dry river bed after the moderate flows of February 1994 (max. 7700 m3 s−1) and January 1996 (max. 3200 m3 s−1). The bedforms had wave-lengths in the range 8–19 m, amplitudes of up to 1 m with steeper stoss than lee faces and crest lines generally transverse to local peak-discharge flow direction. The gravel fabric and size sorting change systematically up the stoss and down the lee faces. The antidune deposits form erosive based lenses of sandy gravel with low-angle downstream dipping lamination and generally steep upstream dipping a-b planes. The internal form and fabric of the antidune gravel lenses are distinctly different from those of dune lee gravel lenses. The erosive based lenses of low-angle cross-bedded gravel with steep upstream dipping a-b planes are relatively easy to recognize and may be diagnostic of downstream migrating antidunes. The antidune gravel lenses are associated with thick (to 1 m) high-angle cross bed sets. Ancient antidune gravel lenses may be diagnostic of episodic high-discharge conditions and particularly when they are associated with high-angle cross-bedded gravelly sand they may be useful for palaeoenvironmental interpretation.