Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Rivers Continued, Intro to Deltas

Meandering River Facies

Meandering River Channel Facies:
1. Scoured base of flow
2. Lag deposit with mud rip-up clasts
3. Fining upward sands with trough cross stratification
4. Rippled sands
5. Sigmoidal cross stratification from migrating point bars

Floodplain Facies
1. Fine sand with climbing ripples
2. Mudstone/shale with mud cracks
3. Soils
4. Root casts

Ox Bow Lake Facies
1. Mudstone/shale without mud cracks
2. Organic-rich deposits, including coal
3. Anoxic water indicators (especially in fossils and absence of trace fossils)

See also: for a review of meandering rivers.

Braided Rivers - Braided rivers develop when the proportion of bed load sediment is high, which produces abundant bedforms and promotes the development of bars, and thus, the braided character of the river. The sediment is commonly coarse, which requires fast flow and steep gradients for the sediment to be transported. Much of the geometry of braided rivers is shaped by the highest flows, e.g. spring floods, when the bars are covered in water. Many braided rivers have exposed bar tops for much of the year.

Sediment Transport:
1) The coarsest sediment is transported in the middle of the flow where the Reynolds number is highest. (Like meandering rivers, the thalweg is the deepest point in the channel.)
2) Bars are eroded upstream where the bars deflect the flow. Sediment is deposited on downstream side of bars and some on the flanks of bars where flow is slower, particularly on the insides of bends.
3) Secondary bedforms, i.e. planar beds, dunes, and ripples, form as a result of sediment transport on the bars and in the channels, as seen in meandering rivers.

Sedimentary features include:
1) trough x-bedding in channels, due to the migration of irregular dunes
2) coarsest sediment may be lower flat laminated if flow speeds are not fast enough to form coarse grained dunes
3) sediment on the edges of bars fines upward because the flow is shallower and slower, e.g. has a lower Re. Sedimentary structures can include anything from upper flat to ripple laminations.

Braided River Facies
Channels migrate back and forth leaving a sheet of sand with abundant cross stratification. These sheets of sand tend to fine upward. General characteristics of braided river deposits include:
1) Scoured surface at the base of a channel
2) Gravel lag at base of channel
3) Trough x-bedded sands deposited just off the thalweg
4) Occasional tabular x-stratification from migrating bars
5) Sand deposited at slower speeds, finer grained (rippled possible)
6) Overbank deposits from floods mostly composed of sand and silt, with some mud

The large scale geometry of the deposits includes sheets of sand separated by floodplain deposits.

Differences between braided and meandering river deposits:

1. Braided river deposits are commonly coarser grained
2. Meandering rivers contain abundant suspended sediment, which is deposited in ox bow lakes and on floodplains.
3. Overbank deposits are better developed and finer grained in meandering river systems.
4. Bar migration is much more regular in direction in meandering rivers because there is a well defined, single thalweg towards which the bars migrate. In contrast, braided river bar migration occurs in multiple directions. Thus, meandering rivers produce a more regular geometry of tabular cross bedding, when preserved.

General Characteristics of Fluvial Sediments:
1) On a large scale, river deposits consist of sheets and lenses of sand deposited in channels associated with flat laminated shales and silts with rare rippled sand beds deposited on floodplains.
2) Fining upward sequences of beds in the sands with decreasing flow sedimentary structures
3) Abundant cross stratification in well sorted sands, particularly trough cross stratification
4) Cut banks at the edges of channels - these are good indicators of a migrating river channel, but can be hard to see in outcrop
5) Soil development in associated shales deposited in the floodplain environment.

Look at pictures of fluvial rocks at

Deltas and Estuaries - Introduction
Deltas form at the mouths of rivers that transport enough sediment to build outward. (Building outward is a key component of the definition of a delta. Rivers where the ocean or lake floods the river valley flow into estuaries.) Deltas require substantial accumulation of sediment, in contrast to estuaries which do not build outward. Sedimentary facies are similar to other depositional environments, but the association of subenvironments are recognizable as deltas. Some of the sub environments include: river facies with all the associated sub environments; shore line deposits including beaches, marshes/swamps, etc.; submarine shelf and slope facies, including storm deposits and turbidites; etc.

I will draw cross section and map views of a delta showing the delta plane, delta slopes, and prodelta. Rivers flow through delta planes and slow when reaching water, producing a mouth bar. Grain size decreases with distance away from the river mouth.

Progradation - Because deltas are sites of sediment building outward from the coast, they are progradational; the landward depositional environments move seaward over more marine/lacustrine deposits. Thus, delta sequences in the rock record start with deep water, marine, fine grained sediments and grade upward into shallower water, possible more freshwater, coarser grained sediments. This is one of the distinguishing aspects of deltas that let you define them in the sedimentary record. These changes in grain size and environment typically occur over 1’s to 100’s of meters in the rock record and include many beds.

Sediment Transport Type - All deltas (by definition) have their sediment transported to the delta by rivers. Thus, riverine deposits are always associated with them. In addition, depending on marine (or lacustrine) conditions, waves and tides can redistribute the riverine sediment changing the morphology and facies of deltas. There are three main end member categories of deltas when characterized by processes: 1) River dominated; 2) Wave influenced; and 3) Tide influenced.  We will talk more about these after we discuss marine processes.

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