Unit bar architecture in a highly‐variable fluvial discharge regime: Examples from the Burdekin River, Australia

Christopher M. Herbert (Lead Author), Jan Alexander, Kathryn J. Amos, Christopher R. Fielding

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17 Citations (Scopus)
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Unit bars are relatively large bedforms that develop in rivers over a wide range of climatic regimes. Unit bars formed within the highly-variable discharge Burdekin River in Queensland, Australia, were examined over three field campaigns between 2015 and 2017. These bars had complex internal structures, dominated by co-sets of cross-stratified and planar-stratified sets. The cross-stratified sets tended to down-climb. The development of complex internal structures was primarily a result of three processes: (i) superimposed bedforms reworking the unit bar avalanche face; (ii) variable discharge triggering reactivation surfaces; and (iii) changes in bar growth direction induced by stage change. Internal structures varied along the length and across the width of unit bars. For the former, down-climbing cross-stratified sets tended to pass into single planar cross-stratified deposits at the downstream end of emergent bars; such variation related to changes in fluvial conditions whilst bars were active. A hierarchy of six categories of fluvial unsteadiness is proposed, with these discussed in relation to their effects on unit bar (and dune) internal structure. Across-deposit variation was caused by changes in superimposed bedform and bar character along bar crests; such changes related to the three-dimensionality of the channel and bar geometry when bars were active. Variation in internal structure is likely to be more pronounced in unit bar deposits than in smaller bedform (for example, dune) deposits formed in the same river. This is because smaller bedforms are more easily washed out or modified by changing discharge conditions and their smaller dimensions restrict the variation in flow conditions that occur over their width. In regimes where unit bar deposits are well-preserved, their architectural variability is a potential aid to their identification. This complex architecture also allows greater resolution in interpreting the conditions before and during bar initiation and development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)576-605
Number of pages30
Issue number1
Early online date8 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


  • Bedform
  • cross-stratification
  • dune
  • fluvial
  • internal structure
  • unit bar

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