Publication Type:

Journal Article


GeomorphologyGeomorphology, Volume 286, p.93-109 (2017)




meander, point bar, remote sensing, Skaftá


Vegetation exerts strong controls on fluvial sinuosity, providing bank stability and buffering surface runoff. These controls are manifest in densely vegetated landscapes, whereas sparsely vegetated fluvial systems have been so far overlooked. This study integrates remote sensing and gauging records of the meandering to wandering Fossálar River, a relatively steep-sloped (< 2.5%) Icelandic river featuring well-developed point bars (79%–85% of total active bar surface) despite the lack of thick, arborescent vegetation. Over four decades, fluctuations in the sinuosity index (1.15–1.43) and vegetation cover (63%–83%) are not significantly correlated (r = 0.28, p > 0.05), suggesting that relationships between the two are mediated by intervening variables and uncertain lag times. By comparison, discharge regime and fluvial planform show direct correlation over monthly to yearly time scales, with stable discharge stages accompanying the accretion of meander bends and peak floods related to destructive point-bar reworking. Rapid planform change is aided by the unconsolidated nature of unrooted alluvial banks, with recorded rates of lateral channel-belt migration averaging 18 m/yr. Valley confinement and channel mobility also control the geometry and evolution of individual point bars, with the highest degree of spatial geomorphic variability recorded in low-gradient stretches where lateral migration is unimpeded. Point bars in the Fossálar River display morphometric values comparable to those of other sparsely vegetated rivers, suggesting shared scalar properties. This conjecture prompts the need for more sophisticated integrations between remote sensing and gauging records on modern rivers lacking widespread plant life. While a large volume of experimental and field-based work maintains that thick vegetation has a critical role in limiting braiding, thus favouring sinuosity, this study demonstrates the stronger controls of discharge regime and alluvial morphology on sparsely vegetated sinuous rivers.