Interactions between main channels and tributary alluvial fans: Channel adjustments and sediment-signal propagation

Sara Savi, Stefanie Tofelde, Andrew D. Wickert, Aaron Bufe, Taylor F. Schildgen, Manfred R. Strecker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Climate and tectonics impact water and sediment fluxes to fluvial systems. These boundary conditions set river form and can be recorded by fluvial deposits. Reconstructions of boundary conditions from these deposits, however, is complicated by complex channel-network interactions and associated sediment storage and release through the fluvial system. To address this challenge, we used a physical experiment to study the interplay between a main channel and a tributary under different forcing conditions. In particular, we investigated the impact of a single tributary junction, where sediment supply from the tributary can produce an alluvial fan, on channel geometries and associated sediment-Transfer dynamics. We found that the presence of an alluvial fan may either promote or prevent the movement of sediment within the fluvial system, creating different coupling conditions. By analyzing different environmental scenarios, our results reveal the contribution of both the main channel and the tributary to fluvial deposits upstream and downstream from the tributary junction. We summarize all findings in a new conceptual framework that illustrates the possible interactions between tributary alluvial fans and a main channel under different environmental conditions. This framework provides a better understanding of the composition and architecture of fluvial sedimentary deposits found at confluence zones, which can facilitate the reconstruction of the climatic or tectonic history of a basin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)303-322
Number of pages20
JournalEarth Surface Dynamics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 28 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Financial support. This research has been supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (grant nos. SCHI 1241/1-1 and SA 3360/2-1), the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung (grant no. ITA 1154030 STP), and the University of Minnesota.

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