Along a 28 km reach of the Klip River, eastern Free State, South Africa, mud- and sand-dominated meanders have developed in close proximity within a floodplain wetland up to 1.5 km wide, providing an unusual opportunity to compare their characteristics under similar hydrological conditions. Throughout the reach, the channel bed is grounded on sandstone/shale bedrock although the banks are alluvial, and most river activity occurs during summer high flows. The reach can be divided into three geomorphological zones: Zone 1 (0–11 km), a muddy proximal part with a single meandering channel (w/d <10) and near-permanent standing water in oxbows and backswamps; Zone 2 (11–17.5 km), a transitional mud-to-sand part with one main channel (w/d not, vert, similar 20–30), a number of sinuous palaeochannels and oxbows, and only limited standing water; and Zone 3 (17.5–28 km), a sandy distal part with a single meandering channel (w/d not, vert, similar 15–30), scroll bars and oxbows, and little standing water. Each zone also has a distinctive sedimentology: Zone 1 is characterised by an not, vert, similar 3–4 m thick succession of basal sand and minor granules overlain by dominantly muddy sediment deposited primarily by oblique accretion in meander bends; Zone 2 is characterised by <4 m of interbedded sand and mud deposited primarily by lateral point-bar accretion, although a history of avulsions also attests to the importance of abandoned-channel accretion; and Zone 3 is characterised by <3 m of dominantly sand deposited primarily by lateral point-bar accretion. This unusual downstream sediment coarsening trend, and the associated changes in channel and floodplain character, are independent of sediment inputs from tributaries, and result from a downstream increase in bankfull unit stream power from <3.5 W m− 2 (Zone 1) to not, vert, similar 4–10 W m− 2 (Zone 3). Mud is deposited primarily in low-energy Zone 1 but is conveyed in suspension more effectively through higher energy Zones 2 and 3, only forming drapes over sandy lateral accretion deposits during waning flood stages. The downstream increase in unit stream power is controlled in part by a slight downstream increase in floodplain gradient that may be related to a subtle variation in the erosional resistance of the bedrock underlying the channel bed. These findings add to previous work on meandering rivers by demonstrating that mud-dominated meanders can occur in long-term erosional settings where the channel bed is grounded on bedrock, and that downstream fining trends may be reversed locally.
- point-bar accretion
- stream power