Braided rivers have accumulated a dominant fraction of the terrestrial sedimentary record, and yet their morphodynamics in proximal intermountain reaches are still not fully documented—a shortcoming that hampers a full understanding of sediment fluxes and stratigraphic preservation in proximal-basin tracts. Located in the eastern Canadian Cordillera near the continental divide, the Kicking Horse River is an iconic stream that has served as a model for proximal-braided rivers since the 1970s. Legacy work on the river was based solely on ground observations of small, in-channel bars; here we integrate field data at the scale of individual bars to the entire channel belt with time-lapse remote sensing and ground-penetrating-radar (GPR) imaging, in order to produce a more sophisticated morphodynamic model for the river.
Cyclical discharge fluctuations related to both diurnal and seasonal variations in melt-water influx control the planform evolution and corresponding stratigraphic signature of trunk channels, intermittently active anabranch channels, and both bank-attached and mid-channel bars. Three-dimensional GPR fence diagrams of compound-bar complexes are built based on the identification of distinct radar facies related to: i) accretion and migration of unit bars, ii) both downstream and lateral outbuilding of bar-slip foresets; iii) buildup of bedload sheets, iv) channel avulsion, and v) accretion of mounded bars around logs or outsized clasts. Trends observed downstream-ward include decreases in gradient and grain size decreases, trunk-channel shrinkage, intensified avulsion (with increase in abundance for anabranch channels), and a shift from high-relief to low-relief bar topography. The integration of ground sedimentology, time-lapse remote sensing, and GPR imaging demonstrates that proximal-braided streams such as the Kicking Horse River can be critically compared to larger systems located farther away from their source uplands despite obvious scale differences.