The ontogeny of five flood-plain segments is described for a period of 18 yr following a major flood in 1978 on the Powder River in southeastern Montana. The flood plains developed on relatively elevated sand and gravel deposits left within the channel by the 1978 flood. In cross section, the flood plains resemble benches with well-developed natural levees. Flood-plain growth occurred as sediment was draped onto preexisting surfaces in layers of sand and mud a few centimeters to decimeters thick, resulting in some lateral, but mostly vertical accretion. Annual and biannual measurements indicated that, as the flood-plain segments grew upward, the annual rate of vertical accretion decreased as the partial duration recurrence interval for the threshold or bankfull discharge increased from 0.16 to 1.3 yr. It is clear that a constant recurrence interval for overbank flow cannot be meaningfully assigned to this type of flood-plain ontogeny.
These flood plains did not grow on migrating point bars, and vertical accretion at least initially occurred within the channel, rather than across the valley flat during extensive overbank flows. Sediments of these flood plains define narrow, elongated stratigraphic units that border the active channel and onlap older flood-plain deposits. These characteristics are considerably different from those of many facies models for meandering river deposits. Facies similar to those described in this paper are likely to be preserved, thereby providing important evidence in the geologic record for episodes of periodic channel expansion by ancient rivers.