Morphodynamics and sedimentary structures of bedforms under supercritical-flow conditions: New insights from flume experiments



Supercritical-flow phenomena are fairly common in modern sedimentary environments, yet their recognition and analysis remain difficult in the stratigraphic record. This fact is commonly ascribed to the poor preservation potential of deposits from high-energy supercritical flows. However, the number of flume data sets on supercritical-flow dynamics and sedimentary structures is very limited in comparison with available data for subcritical flows, which hampers the recognition and interpretation of such deposits. The results of systematic flume experiments spanning a broad range of supercritical-flow bedforms (antidunes, chutes-and-pools and cyclic steps) developed in mobile sand beds of variable grain sizes are presented. Flow character and related bedform patterns are constrained through time-series measurements of bed configurations, flow depths, flow velocities and Froude numbers. The results allow the refinement and extension of some widely used bedform stability diagrams in the supercritical-flow domain, clarifying in particular the morphodynamic relations between antidunes and cyclic steps. The onset of antidunes is controlled by flows exceeding a threshold Froude number. The transition from antidunes to cyclic steps in fine to medium-grained sand occurs at a threshold mobility parameter. Sedimentary structures associated with supercritical bedforms developed under variable aggradation rates are revealed by means of combining flume results and synthetic stratigraphy. The sedimentary structures are compared with examples from field and other flume studies. Aggradation rate is seen to exert an important control on the geometry of supercritical-flow structures and should be considered when identifying supercritical bedforms in the sedimentary record.