Braided river

Last updated
The Waimakariri River in the South Island of New Zealand is braided over most of its course Waimakariri01 gobeirne.jpg
The Waimakariri River in the South Island of New Zealand is braided over most of its course

A braided river, or braided channel, consists of a network of river channels separated by small, often temporary, islands called braid bars or, in English usage, aits or eyots. Braided streams tend to occur in rivers with high sediment loads and/or coarse grain sizes, [1] [2] and in rivers with steeper slopes than typical rivers with straight or meandering channel patterns. [3] They are also associated with rivers with rapid and frequent variation in the amount of water they carry, i.e., with "flashy" rivers, and with rivers with weak banks. [4] Braided channels are found in a variety of environments all over the world, including gravelly mountain streams, sand bed rivers, on alluvial fans, on river deltas, and across depositional plains. [4] [5]



The White River in the U.S. state of Washington transports a large sediment load from the Emmons Glacier of Mount Rainier, a young, rapidly eroding volcano. White River 5965.JPG
The White River in the U.S. state of Washington transports a large sediment load from the Emmons Glacier of Mount Rainier, a young, rapidly eroding volcano.

Braided rivers, as distinct from meandering rivers, occur when a threshold level of sediment load or slope is reached while a steep gradient is also maintained. On timescales long enough for the river to evolve, a sustained increase in sediment load will increase the bed slope of the river, so these two conditions may be considered synonymous; and, consequently, a variation of slope is equivalent to a variation in sediment load, provided the amount of water carried by the river is unchanged. A threshold slope was experimentally determined to be 0.016 (ft/ft) for a 0.15 cu ft/s (0.0042 m3/s) stream with poorly sorted coarse sand. [3] Any slope over this threshold created a braided stream, while any slope under the threshold created a meandering stream or – for very low slopes – a straight channel. So the main controlling factor on river development is the amount of sediment that the river carries; once a given system crosses a threshold value for sediment load, it will convert from a meandering system to a braided system. Also important to channel development is the proportion of suspended load sediment to bed load. An increase in suspended sediment allowed for the deposition of fine erosion-resistant material on the inside of a curve, which accentuated the curve and in some instances, caused a river to shift from a braided to a meandering profile. [3] The channels and braid bars are usually highly mobile, with the river layout often changing significantly during flood events. [6]

The braided channels may flow within an area defined by relatively stable banks or may occupy an entire valley floor. The Rakaia River in Canterbury, New Zealand has cut a channel 100 metres wide into the surrounding plains; this river transports sediment to a lagoon located on the river-coast interface.

Conditions associated with braided channel formation include:

However, in terms of the processes that shape the river, the critical factor that determines whether a stream will meander or braid is bank erodibility. A stream with cohesive banks that are resistant to erosion will form narrow, deep, meandering channels, whereas a stream with highly erodible banks will form wide, shallow channels, preventing the helical flow of the water necessary for meandering and resulting in the formation of braided channels. [9]


Extensive braided river systems are found in Alaska, Canada, New Zealand's South Island, and the Himalayas, which all contain young, rapidly eroding mountains.

Notable braided rivers in Europe:

Anastomosing rivers

Anastomosing rivers or streams are similar to braided rivers in that they consist of multiple interweaving channels. However, anastomosing rivers typically consist of a network of low-gradient, narrow, deep channels with stable banks, [9] in contrast to braided rivers, which form on steeper gradients and display less bank stability.

See also

Related Research Articles

Sediment Particulate solid matter that is deposited on the surface of land

Sediment is a naturally occurring material that is broken down by processes of weathering and erosion, and is subsequently transported by the action of wind, water, or ice or by the force of gravity acting on the particles. For example, sand and silt can be carried in suspension in river water and on reaching the sea bed deposited by sedimentation. If buried, they may eventually become sandstone and siltstone through lithification.

River delta Silt deposition landform at the mouth of a river

A river delta is a landform created by deposition of sediment that is carried by a river as the flow leaves its mouth and enters slower-moving or stagnant water. This occurs where a river enters an ocean, sea, estuary, lake, reservoir, or another river that cannot carry away the supplied sediment. The size and shape of a delta is controlled by the balance between watershed processes that supply sediment, and receiving basin processes that redistribute, sequester, and export that sediment. The size, geometry, and location of the receiving basin also plays an important role in delta evolution. River deltas are important in human civilization, as they are major agricultural production centers and population centers. They can provide coastline defense and can impact drinking water supply. They are also ecologically important, with different species' assemblages depending on their landscape position.

Alluvial fan A fan- or cone-shaped deposit of sediment crossed and built up by streams

An alluvial fan is an accumulation of sediments shaped like a section of a shallow cone, with its apex at a point source of sediments, such as a narrow canyon emerging from an escarpment. They are characteristic of mountainous terrain in arid to semiarid climates, but are also found in more humid environments subject to intense rainfall and in areas of modern glaciation. They range in area from less than 1 square kilometre (0.39 sq mi) to almost 20,000 square kilometres (7,700 sq mi).

Fluvial processes Processes associated with rivers and streams

In geography and geology, fluvial processes are associated with rivers and streams and the deposits and landforms created by them. When the stream or rivers are associated with glaciers, ice sheets, or ice caps, the term glaciofluvial or fluvioglacial is used.

Alluvial plain Region on which rivers have deposited sediment

An alluvial plain is a largely flat landform created by the deposition of sediment over a long period of time by one or more rivers coming from highland regions, from which alluvial soil forms. A floodplain is part of the process, being the smaller area over which the rivers flood at a particular period of time, whereas the alluvial plain is the larger area representing the region over which the floodplains have shifted over geological time.

Meander Sinuous bend in a series in the channel of a river

A meander is one of a series of regular sinuous curves, bends, loops, turns, or windings in the channel of a river, stream, or other watercourse. It is produced by a stream or river swinging from side to side as it flows across its floodplain or shifts its channel within a valley. A meander is produced by a stream or river as it erodes the sediments comprising an outer, concave bank and deposits this and other sediment downstream on an inner, convex bank which is typically a point bar. The result of sediments being eroded from the outside concave bank and their deposition on an inside convex bank is the formation of a sinuous course as a channel migrates back and forth across the down-valley axis of a floodplain. The zone within which a meandering stream shifts its channel across either its floodplain or valley floor from time to time is known as a meander belt. It typically ranges from 15 to 18 times the width of the channel. Over time, meanders migrate downstream, sometimes in such a short time as to create civil engineering problems for local municipalities attempting to maintain stable roads and bridges.

A wide variety of river and stream channel types exist in limnology, the study of inland waters. All these can be divided into two groups by using the water-flow gradient as either low gradient channels for streams or rivers with less than two percent (2%) flow gradient, or high gradient channels for those with greater than a 2% gradient.

The terms river morphology and its synonym stream morphology are used to describe the shapes of river channels and how they change in shape and direction over time. The morphology of a river channel is a function of a number of processes and environmental conditions, including the composition and erodibility of the bed and banks ; erosion comes from the power and consistency of the current, and can effect the formation of the river's path. Also, vegetation and the rate of plant growth; the availability of sediment; the size and composition of the sediment moving through the channel; the rate of sediment transport through the channel and the rate of deposition on the floodplain, banks, bars, and bed; and regional aggradation or degradation due to subsidence or uplift. River morphology can also be effected by human interaction, which is a way the river responds to a new factor in how the river can change its course. An example of human induced change in river morphology is dam construction, which alters the ebb flow of fluvial water and sediment, therefore creating or shrinking estuarine channels. A river regime is a dynamic equilibrium system, which is a way of classifying rivers into different categories. The four categories of river regimes are Sinuous canali- form rivers, Sinuous point bar rivers, Sinuous braided rivers, and Non-sinuous braided rivers.

Point bar A depositional feature of alluvium that accumulates on the inside bend of streams and rivers below the slip-off slope

A point bar is a depositional feature made of alluvium that accumulates on the inside bend of streams and rivers below the slip-off slope. Point bars are found in abundance in mature or meandering streams. They are crescent-shaped and located on the inside of a stream bend, being very similar to, though often smaller than, towheads, or river islands.

Cut bank Outside bank of a water channel, which is continually undergoing erosion

A cut bank, also known as a river cliff or river-cut cliff, is the outside bank of a water channel (stream), which is continually undergoing erosion. Cut banks are found in abundance along mature or meandering streams, they are located on the outside of a stream bend, known as a meander, opposite the slip-off slope on the inside of the bend. They are shaped much like a small cliff, and are formed by the erosion of soil as the stream collides with the river bank. As opposed to a point bar, which is an area of deposition, a cut bank is an area of erosion.

River Natural flowing watercourse

A river is a natural flowing watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, sea, lake or another river. In some cases a river flows into the ground and becomes dry at the end of its course without reaching another body of water. Small rivers can be referred to using names such as stream, creek, brook, rivulet, and rill. There are no official definitions for the generic term river as applied to geographic features, although in some countries or communities a stream is defined by its size. Many names for small rivers are specific to geographic location; examples are "run" in some parts of the United States, "burn" in Scotland and northeast England, and "beck" in northern England. Sometimes a river is defined as being larger than a creek, but not always: the language is vague.

Avulsion (river) The rapid abandonment of a river channel and formation of a new channel

In sedimentary geology and fluvial geomorphology, avulsion is the rapid abandonment of a river channel and the formation of a new river channel. Avulsions occur as a result of channel slopes that are much less steep than the slope that the river could travel if it took a new course.

Bar (river morphology) An elevated region of sediment in a river that has been deposited by the flow

A bar in a river is an elevated region of sediment that has been deposited by the flow. Types of bars include mid-channel bars, point bars, and mouth bars. The locations of bars are determined by the geometry of the river and the flow through it. Bars reflect sediment supply conditions, and can show where sediment supply rate is greater than the transport capacity.

An alluvial river is one in which the bed and banks are made up of mobile sediment and/or soil. Alluvial rivers are self-formed, meaning that their channels are shaped by the magnitude and frequency of the floods that they experience, and the ability of these floods to erode, deposit, and transport sediment. For this reason, alluvial rivers can assume a number of forms based on the properties of their banks; the flows they experience; the local riparian ecology; and the amount, size, and type of sediment that they carry.

Channel patterns are found in rivers, streams, and other bodies of water that transport water from one place to another. Systems of branching river channels dissect most of the sub-aerial landscape, each in a valley proportioned to its size. Whether formed by chance or necessity, by headward erosion or downslope convergence, whether inherited or newly formed. Depending on different geological factors such as weathering, erosion, depositional environment, and sediment type, different types of channel patterns can form.

Specimen Ridge

Specimen Ridge, el. 8,379 feet (2,554 m) is an approximately 8.5-mile (13.7 km) ridge along the south rim of the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park. The ridge separates the Lamar Valley from Mirror Plateau. The ridge is oriented northwest to southeast from the Tower Junction area to Amethyst Mountain. The ridge is known for its abundance of amethyst, opal and petrified wood. It was referred to as Specimen Mountain by local miners and was probably named by prospectors well before 1870. The south side of the ridge is traversed by the 18.8-mile (30.3 km) Specimen Ridge Trail between Tower Junction and Soda Butte Creek. The trail passes through the Petrified Forest and over the summit of Amethyst Mountain el. 9,614 feet (2,930 m).

Meander cutoff

A meander cutoff, the natural form of a cutting or cut in a river occurs when a pronounced meander (hook) in a river is breached by a flow that connects the two closest parts of the hook to form a new channel, a full loop. The steeper drop in gradient (slope) causes the river flow gradually to abandon the meander which will silt up with sediment from deposition. Cutoffs are a natural part of the evolution of a meandering river. Rivers form meanders as they flow laterally downstream, see sinuosity.

Amethyst Mountain, el. 9,609 feet (2,929 m) is the highest peak and central part of a northwest – southeast trending ridge that lies between the Lamar River to the northeast and Deep Creek to the southwest within Park County, Wyoming. From northwest to southeast, this ridge consists of Specimen Ridge, Amethyst Mountain, and the Mirror Plateau in Yellowstone National Park. The nearest town is Silver Gate, Montana, which is 19.2 miles away.


Hapua is the Māori term for river-mouth lagoons on mixed sand and gravel (MSG) beaches which form at the river-coast interface where a typically braided, although sometimes meandering, river interacts with a coastal environment that is significantly affected by longshore drift. The lagoons which form on the MSG coastlines are common on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand and have long been referred to as hapua by the Māori. This classification differentiates hapua from similar lagoons located on the New Zealand coast termed waituna. Hapua are often located on paraglacial coastal areas where there is a low level of coastal development and minimal population density. Hapua form as the river carves out an elongated coast-parallel area, blocked from the sea by a MSG barrier which constantly alters its shape and volume due to longshore drift. Longshore drift continually extends the barrier behind which the hapua forms by transporting sediment along the coast. Hapua are defined as a narrow shore-parallel extensions of the coastal riverbed. They discharge the majority of stored water to the ocean via an ephemeral and highly mobile drainage channel or outlet. The remainder percolates through the MSG barrier due to its high levels of permeability. Hapua systems are driven by a wide range of dynamic processes that are generally classified as fluvial or marine; changes in the balance between these processes as well as the antecedent barrier conditions can cause shifts in the morphology of the hapua, in particular the barrier. New Zealand examples include the Rakaia, Ashburton and Hurunui river-mouths.


  3. 1 2 3 Schumm, S; Kahn, H (1972). "Experimental Study of Channel Patterns". Bulletin of the Geological Society of America. 83 (6): 1755–1770. doi:10.1130/0016-7606(1972)83[1755:esocp];2.
  4. 1 2
  5. Braided rivers: perspectives and problems, C. S. Bristow and J. L. Best, Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 75, 1-11, 1 January 1993,
  6. Hickin, E; Sichingabula, H (1988). "The geomorphic impact of the catastrophic October 1984 flood on the planform of the Squamish River, southwestern British Columbia". Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences. 25 (7): 1078–1087. doi:10.1139/e88-105.
  7. Gray, D.; Harding, J.S. (2007). "Braided river ecology: A literature review of physical habitats and aquatic invertebrate communities". Science for Conservation (279).
  8. 1 2 Leopold, L.B.; Wolman, M.G. (1957). "River channel patterns: Braiding, meandering, and straight". U.S. Geological Survey Professional Papers. 262b: 39–85.
  9. 1 2 Easterbrook, Don J. (1999). Surface Processes and Landforms. Prentice Hall.
  10. Catling, David (1992). Rice in deep water. International Rice Research Institute. p. 177. ISBN   978-971-22-0005-2 . Retrieved 23 April 2011.
  11. Chien, N. (1961). "The braided stream of the lower Yellow River". Scientia Sinica. 10: 734–754.
  12. Fraley, Thear Kirk (13–16 March 2010). Depositional Environment of Lower Pennsylvanian Sewanee Conglomerate, Lookout Mountain, Georgia. Geological Society of America Northeastern Section (45th Annual) and Southeastern Section (59th Annual) Joint Meeting.
  13. Churnet, Habte Giorgis; Bergenback, Richard E. (1986). Depositional Systems of Pennsylvanian Rocks in the Cumberland Plateau of Southern Tennessee. Georgia Geological Society.
  14. Ferm, J.C.; Miliei, R.C.; Eason, J.E. (1972). "Carboniferous depositional environments in the Cumberland Plateau of Southern Tennessee and Northern Alabama". Tennessee Div. Geology Rept. Inv. (33).

Further reading