The sedimentology of river confluences

Gregory H. Sambrook Smith, Andrew P. Nicholas, James L. Best, Jonathan M. Bull, Simon J. Dixon, Steven Goodbred, Maminul H. Sarker, Mark E. Vardy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Channel confluences are key nodes within large river networks, and yet surprisingly little is known about their spatial and temporal evolution. Moreover, because confluences are associated with vertical scour that typically extends to several times the mean channel depth, the deposits associated with such scours should have a high preservation potential within the rock record. Paradoxically, such scours are rarely observed, and their preservation and sedimentological interpretation are poorly understood. The present study details results from a physically-based morphodynamic model that is applied to simulate the evolution and alluvial architecture of large river junctions. Boundary conditions within the model were defined to approximate the junction of the Ganges and Jamuna rivers, Bangladesh, with the model output being supplemented by geophysical datasets collected at this junction. The numerical simulations reveal several distinct styles of sedimentary fill that are related to the morphodynamic behaviour of bars, confluence scour downstream of braid bars, bend scour and major junction scour. Comparison with existing, largely qualitative, conceptual models reveals that none of these can be applied simply, although elements of each are evident in the deposits generated by the numerical simulation and observed in the geophysical data. The characteristics of the simulated scour deposits are found to vary according to the degree of reworking caused by channel migration, a factor not considered adequately in current conceptual models of confluence sedimentology. The alluvial architecture of major junction scours is thus characterized by the prevalence of erosion surfaces in conjunction with the thickest depositional sets. Confluence scour downstream of braid bar and bend scour sites may preserve some large individual sets, but these locations are typically characterized by lower average set thickness compared to major junction scour and by a lack of large-scale erosional surfaces. Areas of deposition not related to any of the specific scour types highlighted above record the thinnest depositional sets. This variety in the alluvial architecture of scours may go some way towards explaining the paradox of ancient junction scours, that while abundant large scours are likely in the rock record, they have been reported rarely. The present results outline the likely range of confluence sedimentology and will serve as a new tool for recognizing and interpreting these deposits in the ancient fluvial record.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)391-407
Number of pages17
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2019


  • Alluvial architecture
  • confluence scour
  • large river
  • numerical model
  • preservation potential

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology
  • Stratigraphy


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