The significance of superimposed dunes in the Amazon River: Implications for how large rivers are identified in the rock record

Cristiano P. Galeazzi, Renato P. Almeida, Carlos E.M. Mazoca, Jim L. Best, Bernardo T. Freitas, Marco Ianniruberto, Julia Cisneros, Larissa N. Tamura

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The recognition of large fluvial channels in the geological record is of great importance for regional palaeohydraulic and palaeogeographical reconstructions, inputs to reservoir modelling, and estimating the input of sediment to sedimentary basins, with consequent larger-scale implications for modelling basin fill. However, available criteria for the interpretation of the scale of ancient fluvial systems are still poorly tested, particularly the widely-adopted assumption that the abundance of large-scale dunes in some deep channels implies that abundant large-scale cross-strata sets will be preserved in similar palaeochannels. To test this hypothesis, high-resolution multibeam echo-sounding imaging of two reaches in the Amazon River where large dunes are common were investigated, yielding an extensive dataset concerning dune geometry, position within the channel and, most importantly, the presence and distribution of smaller superimposed dunes on their lee sides. These results show that despite 90% of the bedforms at water depths >20 m being constituted by up to 12·2 m high compound dunes, 94% of the lee sides of these dunes are covered by smaller superimposed dunes. These results suggest that steep avalanche foresets that are several metres in height may be rare in the preserved stratigraphic record of these large channels, which are instead more commonly represented by decimetre-scale cross-stratified cosets formed by superimposed dunes migrating down the lee side of the large-scale host bedforms. This observation thus suggests that the recognition of compound dune cosets is key to the interpretation of river-channel scale, since compound dunes are the principal bedform in most large river channels. Consequently, successions dominated by decimetre-scale thick cross-strata sets, but that show rarer preservation of outsized metre-scale avalanche foresets, and abundant similar-sized cosets near the base of fining-upward cycles are probably the most common bedform record of large-river channels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2388-2403
Number of pages16
Issue number7
StatePublished - Dec 2018


  • Amazon River
  • MBES
  • large river bedforms
  • large river deposits
  • low-angle compound dunes
  • superimposed dunes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology
  • Stratigraphy


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