River channel lateral mobility: Metrics, time scales, and controls

Andrew D. Wickert, John M. Martin, Michal Tal, Wonsuck Kim, Ben Sheets, Chris Paola

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


Alluvial river channels are intrinsically mobile. We mapped channel planform extent in a series of experiments to measure instantaneous rates of channel motion, loss of planform overlap with the original positions of the channels, and reworking of the fluvial surface over which the channels moved. These experiments comprise two aggrading deltas, one subsiding delta that underwent cyclical base level changes, and one braided channel system that was seeded with vegetation. We find that the amounts of channel planform overlap and remaining unreworked fluvial surface area both decay exponentially with time, and that these metrics and the instantaneously-measured rates of channel motion scale predictably with one another in spite of the different time scales of the processes they record. Rates of channel planform change increase with increasing sediment flux and bed and planform irregularity, and decrease with the establishment of riparian vegetation. Aggradation does not noticeably affect channel mobility, but induces avulsions that allow the channels to more rapidly rework the fluvial surface. Additional findings include that: (1) sediment flux in the braided experiment equals its rate of bar migration, (2) channel widths are normally distributed with time, and (3) we can use our channel mobility metrics to connect surface processes with the resultant fluvial stratigraphy. Key Points We develop new analyses to quantify fluvial processes in a range of experiments River channel lateral mobility scales with sediment flux We link multiple time scales of fluvial processes, including stratigraphy

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)396-412
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2013


  • alluvial rivers
  • avulsion
  • channel mobility
  • data analysis
  • experiment
  • sediment flux


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