The Grain-size Patchiness of Braided Gravel-Bed Streams – example of the Urumqi River (northeast Tian Shan, China)
In gravel-bed rivers, sediments are often sorted into patches of different grain-sizes, but in braided streams, the link between this sorting and the channel morpho-sedimentary elements is still unclear. In this study, the size of the bed sediment in the shallow braided gravel-bed Urumqi River is characterized by surface-count and volumetric sampling methods. Three morpho-sedimentary elements are identified in the active threads of the river: chutes at flow constrictions, which pass downstream to anabranches and bars at flow expansions. The surface and surface-layer grain-size distributions of these three elements show that they correspond to only two kinds of grain-size patches: (1) coarse-grained chutes, coarser than the bulk river bed, and (2) finer-grained anabranches and bars, consistent with the bulk river bed. In cross-section, the chute patches are composed of one coarse-grained top layer, which can be interpreted as a local armour layer overlying finer deposits. In contrast, the grain size of the bar-anabranch patches is finer and much more homogeneous in depth than the chute patches. Those patches, which are features of lateral and vertical sorting associated to the transport dynamics that build braided patterns, may be typical of active threads in shallow gravel-bed rivers and should be considered in future works on sorting processes and their geomorphologic and stratigraphic results.