Defining large river channel patterns: Alluvial exchange and plurality

John Lewin, Philip J. Ashworth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Citations (SciVal)


Large rivers have anabranching channels with components that may be defined as braided, meandering or straight. This paper shows that application of such holistic terminologies is complicated by recognition of within-type and transitional-type variety, a confusingly varied use of terms, and a coverage of pattern characteristics that for many large rivers is incomplete. In natural states, big rivers can be plural systems in which main, accessory, tributary and floodplain channels and lakes differ functionally and vary in terms of morphological dynamics.

A distinction is drawn between the hydrological and geomorphological connectivity of components in big river plural systems. At any one time, even at flood stage, only some channels are geomorphologically active. Six types of geomorphological connectivity are described that range from coupled, through to partially-coupled and decoupled. The interplay between geomorphological and hydrological connectivity in large rivers is shown to determine habitat status and therefore ecological diversity.

For improved understanding of the dynamics as well as the forms of these large composite systems, it is helpful to: (1) adopt element-level specification, not only for sediment bodies, but also for functioning channels; (2) track the sediment transfer processes and exchanges that produce channel forms over the highly varied timescales operating within large rivers; and (3) recognise the ways in which partially coupled and connected geomorphological systems produce naturally a composite set of forms at different rates. Such augmenting information will provide an improved platform for both river management and ecological understanding.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-98
Number of pages16
Early online date04 Mar 2013
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2014


  • fluvial geomorphology
  • big rivers
  • river channel patterns
  • classification
  • channel-floodplain coupling
  • river management


Dive into the research topics of 'Defining large river channel patterns: Alluvial exchange and plurality'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this