A series of experiments was performed in a large flume to determine the effect of slope and sediment load on channel patterns. Sediment loads and slopes were closely related, and as slope and sediment loads increased, threshold values of these variables were encountered, at which channel patterns altered significantly. At a very low slope and sediment load, the channels remained straight, but at a discharge of 0.15 cfs, a meandering-thalweg channel formed at slopes greater than 0.002. With increased slope and sediment loads, thalweg sinuosity increased to a maximum of 1.25. At slopes greater than 0.016, a braided channel formed. The model channels responded to increased sediment loads by maintaining steeper gradients and by major channel pattern changes, but at very gentle slopes and at steep slopes, the channel could not be forced to develop a meandering thalweg.
These experiments suggest that landforms may not always respond progressively to altered conditions. Rather, dramatic morphologic changes can occur abruptly when critical erosional and (or) depositional threshold values are exceeded.
The meandering-thalweg channel was not a meandering channel. A truly meandering channel with a sinuosity of 1.3 formed when a suspended-sediment load (3 percent concentrations of kaolinite) was introduced into the flow. The clay stabilized the alternate bars, and scour and deepening of the thalweg resulted. This in turn lowered the water level at constant discharge, and the alternate bars emerged o t form point bars. A meandering-thalweg channel was thus converted to a meandering channel by the type of sediment load change that has accompanied climatic and hydrologic changes of the recent geologic past.