Abstract

Accurate estimation of paleo–streamflow depth from outcrop is important for estimation of channel slopes, water discharges, sediment fluxes, and basin sizes of ancient river systems. Bar-scale inclined strata deposited from slipface avalanching on fluvial bar margins are assumed to be indicators of paleodepth insofar as their thickness approaches but does not exceed formative flow depths. We employed a unique, large data set from a prolonged bank-filling flood in the sandy, braided Missouri River (USA) to examine scaling between slipface height and measures of river depth during the flood. The analyses demonstrated that the most frequent slipface height observations underestimate study-reach mean flow depth at peak stage by a factor of 3, but maximum values are approximately equal to mean flow depth. At least 70% of the error is accounted for by the difference between slipface base elevation and mean bed elevation, while the difference between crest elevation and water surface accounts for ∼30%. Our analysis provides a scaling for bar-scale inclined strata formed by avalanching and suggests risk of systematic bias in paleodepth estimation if mean thickness measurements of these deposits are equated to mean bankfull depth.

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