Stream bed

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A stream bed armored with rocks Low creek.jpg
A stream bed armored with rocks

A stream bed or streambed is the channel bottom of a stream or river, the physical confine of the normal water flow. The lateral confines or channel margins are known as the stream banks or river banks, during all but flood stage. Under certain conditions a river can branch from one stream bed to multiple stream beds. [1] A flood occurs when a stream overflows its banks and flows onto its flood plain. As a general rule, the bed is the part of the channel up to the normal water line, and the banks are that part above the normal water line. However, because water flow varies, this differentiation is subject to local interpretation. Usually, the bed is kept clear of terrestrial vegetation, whereas the banks are subjected to water flow only during unusual or perhaps infrequent high water stages and therefore might support vegetation some or much of the time.


The old bed of the Mississippi River near Kaskaskia, Illinois, left behind after the river shifted Old Mississippi riverbed near St. Mary's.jpg
The old bed of the Mississippi River near Kaskaskia, Illinois, left behind after the river shifted
A woman digs in a dry stream bed in Kenya to find water during a drought. Digging for drinking water in a dry riverbed (6220146368).jpg
A woman digs in a dry stream bed in Kenya to find water during a drought.

The nature of any stream bed is always a function of the flow dynamics and the local geologic materials, influenced by that flow. With small streams in mesophytic regions, the nature of the stream bed is strongly responsive to conditions of precipitation runoff. Where natural conditions of either grassland or forest ameliorate peak flows, stream beds are stable, possibly rich, with organic matter and exhibit minimal scour. These streams support a rich biota. Where conditions produce unnatural levels of runoff, such as occurs below roads, the stream beds will exhibit a greater amount of scour, often down to bedrock and banks may be undercut. This process greatly increases watershed erosion and results in thinner soils, upslope from the stream bed, as the channel adjusts to the increase in flow. The stream bed is very complex in terms of erosion. Sediment is transported, eroded and deposited on the stream bed. [2] The majority of sediment washed out in floods is "near-threshold" sediment that has been deposited during normal flow and only needs a slightly higher flow to become mobile again. This shows that the stream bed is left mostly unchanged in size and shape. [3]

Beds are usually what would be left once a stream is no longer in existence; the beds are usually well preserved even if they get buried, because the walls and canyons made by the stream usually have hard walls, usually soft sand and debris fill the bed. Dry stream beds are also subject to becoming underground water pockets (buried stream beds only) and flooding by heavy rains and water rising from the ground and may sometimes be part of the rejuvenation of the stream.

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Erosion Natural processes that remove soil and rock

In earth science, erosion is the action of surface processes that removes soil, rock, or dissolved material from one location on the Earth's crust, and then transports it to another location. Erosion is distinct from weathering which involves no movement. Removal of rock or soil as clastic sediment is referred to as physical or mechanical erosion; this contrasts with chemical erosion, where soil or rock material is removed from an area by dissolution. Eroded sediment or solutes may be transported just a few millimetres, or for thousands of kilometres.

Levee Ridge or wall to hold back water

A levee, dike, dyke, embankment, floodbank, or stopbank is an elongated naturally occurring ridge or artificially constructed fill or wall that regulates water levels. It is usually earthen and often parallel to the course of a river in its floodplain or along low-lying coastlines.

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.

Floodplain Land adjacent to a river which is flooded during periods of high discharge

A floodplain or flood plain or bottomlands is an area of land adjacent to a river which stretches from the banks of its channel to the base of the enclosing valley walls, and which experiences flooding during periods of high discharge. The soils usually consist of clays, silts, sands, and gravels deposited during floods.

Alluvial fan 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).

Wadi River valley, especially a dry riverbed that contains water only during times of heavy rain

Wadi, alternatively wād, North African Arabic Oued, is the Arabic term traditionally referring to a valley. In some instances, it may refer to a dry (ephemeral) riverbed that contains water only when heavy rain occurs.

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 also a term for walking slowly. 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.

River engineering Study of human intervention in the course, characteristics, or flow of rivers

River engineering is a discipline of civil engineering which studies human intervention in the course, characteristics, or flow of a river with the intention of producing some defined benefit. People have intervened in the natural course and behaviour of rivers since before recorded history—to manage the water resources, to protect against flooding, or to make passage along or across rivers easier. From Roman times, rivers have been used as a source of hydropower. From the late 20th century, river engineering has had environmental concerns broader than immediate human benefit and some river engineering projects have been concerned exclusively with the restoration or protection of natural characteristics and habitats.

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 affected 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.

Perennial stream type of river

A perennial stream or perennial river is a stream or river (channel) which has constant stream throughout the year through parts of its stream bed during years of normal rainfall. In the absence of irregular, prolonged, or extreme drought, a perennial stream is a watercourse, or segment, element, or emerging body of water which continually delivers groundwater. For example, an artificial disruption of stream, variability in flow or stream selection associated with the activity in hydropower installations, shall not affect the measurement. Perennial streams do not consist of stagnant water for the wetlands, reservoirs, and ponds that occur all the period. All other streams, or portions thereof, should be considered seasonal rivers or lakes. The stream can cycle from broken to perpetual through multiple iterations, to intermittent through its mechanism.

Stream Body of surface water flowing down a channel

A stream is a body of water with surface water flowing within the bed and banks of a channel. The flow of a stream is controlled by three inputs – surface water, subsurface water and groundwater. The surface and subsurface water are highly variable between periods of rainfall. Groundwater, on the other hand, has a relatively constant input and is controlled more by long-term patterns of precipitation. The stream encompasses surface, subsurface and groundwater fluxes that respond to geological, geomorphological, hydrological and biotic controls.

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.

Bridge scour

Bridge scour is the removal of sediment such as sand and gravel from around bridge abutments or piers. Hydrodynamic scour, caused by fast flowing water, can carve out scour holes, compromising the integrity of a structure.

Check dam

A check dam is a small, sometimes temporary, dam constructed across a swale, drainage ditch, or waterway to counteract erosion by reducing water flow velocity. Check dams themselves are not a type of new technology; rather, they are an ancient technique dating from the second century A.D. Check dams are typically, though not always, implemented in a system of several dams situated at regular intervals across the area of interest.

Bar (river morphology) 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.

A mouth bar is an element of a deltaic system, which refers to typically mid-channel deposition of the sediment transported by the river channel at the river mouth.

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.

Riparian-zone restoration Ecological restoration of river banks and floodplains

Riparian-zone restoration is the ecological restoration of riparian-zonehabitats of streams, rivers, springs, lakes, floodplains, and other hydrologic ecologies. A riparian zone or riparian area is the interface between land and a river or stream. Riparian is also the proper nomenclature for one of the fifteen terrestrial biomes of the earth; the habitats of plant and animal communities along the margins and river banks are called riparian vegetation, characterized by Aquatic plants and animals that favor them. Riparian zones are significant in ecology, environmental management, and civil engineering because of their role in soil conservation, their habitat biodiversity, and the influence they have on fauna and aquatic ecosystems, including grassland, woodland, wetland or sub-surface features such as water tables. In some regions the terms riparian woodland, riparian forest, riparian buffer zone, or riparian strip are used to characterize a riparian zone.

River bank failure

River bank failure can be caused when the gravitational forces acting on a bank exceed the forces which hold the sediment together. Failure depends on sediment type, layering, and moisture content.

River incision

River incision is the narrow erosion caused by a river or stream that is far from its base level. River incision is common after tectonic uplift of the landscape. Incision by multiple rivers result in a dissected landscape, for example a dissected plateau. River incision is the natural process by which a river cuts downward into its bed, deepening the active channel. Though it is a natural process, it can be accelerated rapidly by human factors including land use changes such as timber harvest, mining, agriculture, and road and dam construction. The rate of incision is a function of basal shear-stress. Shear stress is increased by factors such as sediment in the water, which increase its density. Shear stress is proportional to water mass, gravity, and WSS:


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