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Keywords:

  • Alluvial stratigraphy;
  • compound bars;
  • radar;
  • river history;
  • sediment accretion;
  • unit bars

Abstract

A hierarchical typology for the channels and bars within aggradational wandering gravel-bed rivers is developed from an examination of a 50 km reach of lower Fraser River, British Columbia, Canada. Unit bars, built by stacking of gravelly bedload sheets, are the key dynamic element of the sediment transfer system, linking sediment transport during individual freshets to the creation, development and remoulding of compound bar platforms that have either a lateral or medial style. Primary and secondary unit bars are identified, respectively, as those that deliver sediment to compound bars from the principal channel and those that redistribute sediment across the compound bar via seasonal anabranches and smaller channels. The record of bar accretion evident in ground-penetrating radar sequences is consistent with the long-term development of bar complexes derived from historical aerial photographs. For two compound bars, inter-annual changes associated with individual sediment transport episodes are measured using detailed topographic surveys and longer-term changes are quantified using sediment budgets derived for individual bars from periodic channel surveys. Annual sediment turnover on the bars is comparable with the bed material transfer rate along the channel, indicating that relatively little bed material bypasses the bars. Bar construction and change are accomplished mainly by lateral accretion as the river has limited capacity to raise bed load onto higher surfaces. Styles of accretion and erosion and, therefore, the major bar form morphologies on Fraser River are familiar and consistent with those in gravelly braided channels but the wandering style does exhibit some distinctive features. For example, 65-year histories reveal the potential for long sequences of uninterrupted accretion in relatively stable wandering rivers that are unlikely in braided rivers.