Channel planform patterns arise from internal dynamics of sediment transport and fluid flow in rivers and are affected by external controls such as valley confinement. Understanding whether these channel patterns are preserved in the rock record has critical implications for our ability to constrain past environmental conditions. Rivers are preserved as channel belts, which are one of the most ubiquitous and accessible parts of the sedimentary record, yet the relationship between river and channel-belt planform patterns remains unquantified. We analyzed planform patterns of rivers and channel belts from 30 systems globally. Channel patterns were classified using a graph theory-based metric, the Entropic Braided Index (eBI), which quantifies the number of river channels by considering the partitioning of water and sediment discharge. We find that, after normalizing by river size, channel-belt width and wavelength, amplitude, and curvature of the belt edges decrease with increasing river channel number (eBI). Active flow in single-channel rivers occupies as little as 1% of the channel belt, while in multichannel rivers it can occupy >50% of the channel belt. Moreover, we find that channel patterns lie along a continuum of channel numbers. Our findings have implications for studies on river and floodplain interaction, storage timescales of floodplain sediment, and paleoenvironmental reconstruction.

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