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When fluids like air and water flow over beds of loose sediment at velocities great enough to transport some of the grains, a great number of different kinds of bed geometries can result, depending on the nature of the flow and the nature of the sediment. Study of these bed geometries, together with the modes and rates of grain movement on and above the transport surface (with which we will not be directly concerned), constitutes a major part of the field of “sediment transport mechanics” or “sedimentary physics”, whether practiced by engineers or by geologists. Engineers are concerned with bed geometries mainly because of the effect on the flow itself; geologists, on the other hand, are more concerned with what bed geometries can indicate about what the generating flows were like.

The aim of this chapter is to summarize the present state of observational knowledge on bed configurations, with particular emphasis on the continuing evolution of what we know from observation and also of the framework within which we think about bed configurations and organize the data. Most of the discussion deals with features produced by unidirectional flows, simply because our knowledge of features produced by more complicated flows is not yet good enough to be very useful in interpretation. Rather than trying to produce an exhaustive catalog of geometry and kinematics of the various bed features, we have aimed at making some important points about the major bed forms which will figure in interpretations in later chapters. Also

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