Abstract

Data on the morphologic and sediment characteristics of stable alluvial rivers of the Great Plains were collected at 50 cross sections. The channel patterns of these rivers were classified into five types: tortuous, irregular, regular, transitional, and straight. Because no clear demarcation existed between each of the types, the pattern of the rivers was described by sinuosity, a ratio of channel length to valley length. The sinuosity ((P)) of these rivers is related to the shape of the channels expressed as a width-depth ratio (F) and to the percentage of silt and clay in the perimeter of the channel (M) as follows:  
formula
 
formula

Sinuous streams are characterized by a low width-depth ratio (F), a high percentage of silt-clay in the perimeter of the channel (M), a high percentage of silt-clay in the banks (although the banks of straight channels may also contain large amounts of silt-clay), and a lower gradient than straight channels having the same mean discharge. Discharge itself does not appear to affect the sinuosity of streams.

Another possible distinction between straight and sinuous streams is in the proportions of the components of total sediment load. In a wide, shallow channel much of the sediment transported is bed-material load. In a narrow, deep channel most of the sediment transported is wash load.

On the Great Plains both straight and sinuous streams may flow on the surface of alluvial valley fills at about the same valley slope. The departure of a stream from a straight course down the alluvial valley results from changes in both the caliber of the sediment load and in the relative proportions of bed-material load and wash load during the post-Pleistocene alluviation of these valleys. When during this alluviation the proportion of wash load increased, most probably by a decrease in bed-material load, the stream adjusted itself by decreasing its gradient through the development of a sinuous course. Recent changes in stream sinuosity in response to changes in the proportions of bed load and suspended load support this hypothesis.

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