Field observations in streams with beds of coarse sand and fine gravel have revealed that bedload moves primarily as thin, migrating accumulations of sediment, and coarse grains cluster at their leading edge. These accumulations are one or two coarse grains high and are much longer (0.2-0.6 m long in sand; 0.5-2.0 m in fine gravel) than their height. We propose the term "bedload sheet" for these features, and we argue that they result from an instability inherent to bedload movement of moderately and poorly sorted sediment. In essence, coarse particles in the bedload slow or stop each other, trap finer particles in their interstices, and thus cause the coarse particles to become mobile again. Bedload sheets develop on the stoss side of dunes, causing the dune to advance incrementally with the arrival of each sheet. Successive deposition of coarse sediment from the leading edge followed by fine sediment may generate the grain-size sorting that distinguishes cross-bedding. Available flume experiments and field observations indicate that bedload sheets are a common, but generally unrecognized, feature of heterogeneous sediment transport.

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