A linear, commonly concave-based depression through which water and sediment flow and into which sediment can be deposited in distinctive, often elongated bodies. Channels can occur in a variety of morphologies, e.g. straight, meandering or braided.



straight channel

Velocity is highest in the zone overlying the deepest part of the stream. In these areas, sediment is transported readily resulting in pools. Where the velocity of the stream is low, sediment is deposited to form bars. The bank closest to the zone of highest velocity is usually eroded and results in a cutbank.

channel A channel B channel C



Meandering Channels -Because of the velocity structure of a stream, and especially in streams flowing over low gradients with easily eroded banks, straight channels will eventually erode into meandering channels.

meandering channel

Erosion will take place on the outer parts of the meander bends where the velocity of the stream is highest. Sediment deposition will occur along the inner meander bends where the velocity is low. Such deposition of sediment results in exposed bars, called point bars.

meander A meander B meander C

Because meandering streams are continually eroding on the outer meander bends and depositing sediment along the inner meander bends, meandering stream channels tend to migrate back and forth across their flood plain.

cutoff 1 cutoff 2 cutoff 3



braided channel

Such a channel is termed a braided channel. During periods of high discharge, the entire stream channel may contain water and the islands are covered to become submerged bars. During such high discharge, some of the islands could erode, but the sediment would be re-deposited as the discharge decreases, forming new islands or submerged bars. Islands may become resistant to erosion if they become inhabited by vegetation.


For further information: A lecture about the Streams and Drainage Systems

(adapted to HTML from lecture notes of Prof. Stephen A. Nelson, Tulane University)



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