Flow structure and channel morphology at a natural confluent meander bend

James D. Riley, Bruce L. Rhoads

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous experimental, field, and modeling studies of confluence dynamics have focused mainly on junctions formed by straight channels. In contrast, natural rivers often meander and tributaries can enter meandering rivers on the outside of bends to form a junction planform known as a confluent meander bend. In this study, field measurements of three-dimensional velocity components and bed topography at a confluent meander bend reveal a complex hydrodynamic environment that responds to changes in momentum-flux ratio, while channel morphology remains relatively stable. Flow from the tributary deflects high-velocity flow and helical motion in the curving main river toward the inside of the bend, inducing bed scour and inhibiting point-bar development. The high junction angle forces the tributary flow to abruptly realign to the orientation of the downstream channel, initiating a counter-rotating helical cell over the outer portion of the bend. Two surface-convergent helical cells persist through the downstream channel, where the combined flows accelerate as the channel cross-sectional area is constricted by a bar along the downstream junction corner, precluding flow separation. Long-term stability of its planform suggests that this confluent meander bend represents a quasi-stable channel configuration. Overall, patterns of flow and channel morphology are quite different from typical patterns in most meander bends, but are generally consistent with a conceptual model of confluent meander bends derived from previous laboratory experiments and numerical modeling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)84-98
Number of pages15
StatePublished - Aug 15 2012


  • Bed morphology
  • Confluences
  • Confluent meander bends
  • Flow structure
  • Helical flow

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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