Existing models of alluvial stratigraphy often neglect the hydrodynamic controls on channel belt and floodplain sedimentation, and predict avulsion using topographic metrics, such as channel belt super-elevation (the ratio of alluvial ridge height to channel depth). This study provides a first demonstration of the potential for simulating long-term river floodplain evolution (over >500 floods) using a process-based hydrodynamic model. Simulations considered alluvial ridge construction during the period leading up to an avulsion, and assess the controls on avulsion likelihood. Results illustrate that the balance between within-channel and overbank sedimentation exerts a key control on both super-elevation ratios and on the conveyance of water and sediment to the floodplain. Rapid overbank sedimentation creates high alluvial ridges with deep channels, leading to lower apparent super-elevation ratios, and implying a reduced likelihood of avulsion. However, channel deepening also drives a reduction in channel belt–floodplain connectivity, so that conveyance of water to the distal floodplain is concentrated in a declining number of channel breaches, which may favor avulsion. These results suggest that, while super-elevation ratios in excess of a threshold value may be a necessary condition for a meandering river avulsion, the likelihood of avulsion may not be greatest where the super-elevation ratio is maximized. Instead, optimal conditions for avulsion may depend on channel-floodplain hydrodynamic connectivity, determined by the balance between coarse (channel bed–forming) and fine (floodplain-constructing) sediment delivery. These results highlight a need to rethink the representation of avulsion in existing models of alluvial architecture.

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