Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface

Cover image for Vol. 122 Issue 4

Impact Factor: 3.318

ISI Journal Citation Reports © Ranking: 2015: 27/184 (Geosciences Multidisciplinary)

Online ISSN: 2169-9011

Associated Title(s): Journal of Geophysical Research

What controls the shape of sediment channels in river deltas?

When turbulent, sediment-filled rivers empty into oceans and lakes, the channels often divide repeatedly to form triangular deltas. Some channels, however, travel long distances before bifurcating, creating elongated channels. Understanding how these patterns arise could be useful for designing wetland restoration schemes on river deltas. Seeking to explain the conditions under which elongated channels form, Falcini and Jerolmack (2010) considered an analogy with cold filaments in ocean currents, in which high potential vorticity (a measure that combines the rotation of a flow with its thermal gradient) helps a filament hold a coherent structure over long distances. The researchers introduced a model that incorporates sediment concentration and fluid vorticity, to derive a new 'potential vorticity' equation that describes sedimentation patterns at the river mouth. Their model shows that a high potential vorticity is needed for the creation of elongated channels, and their comparison to modeling, laboratory, and field studies confirms that potential vorticity is a primary control on channel morphology. The new model could help to understand the shape of the iconic Mississippi River delta and may aid in the design of proposed channel diversions there and on other deltas.

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