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Publication Type:

Journal Article


Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth SurfaceJournal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Number ja (2019)






Early Earth, Early Mars, meandering, mud, Rivers, vegetation


<p>Abstract Flume experiments and field observations show that bank vegetation promotes the formation of narrow and deep single-thread channels by strengthening riverbanks. Consistent with this idea, the pre-Silurian fluvial record generally consists of wide monotonous sand bodies often interpreted as deposits of shallow braided rivers, whereas single-thread rivers with muddy floodplains become more recognizable in Silurian and younger rocks. This shift in the architecture of fluvial deposits has been interpreted as reflecting the rise of single-thread rivers enabled by plant life. The deposits of some single-thread rivers, however, have been recognized in pre-Silurian rocks, and recent field studies have identified meandering rivers in modern unvegetated environments. Furthermore, single-thread-river deposits have been identified on Mars, where macroscopic plants most likely never evolved. Here, we seek to understand the formation of those rarely recognized and poorly characterized single-thread rivers in unvegetated landscapes. Specifically, we quantitatively explore the hypothesis that cohesive muddy banks alone may enable the formation of single-thread rivers in the absence of plants. We combine open-channel hydraulics and a physics-based erosion model applicable to a variety of bank sediments to predict the formation of unvegetated single-thread rivers. Consistent with recent flume experiments and field observations, results indicate that single-thread rivers may form readily within muddy banks. Our model has direct implications for the quantification of riverbank strengthening by vegetation, understanding the hydraulic geometry of modern and ancient unvegetated rivers, interpreting pre-Silurian fluvial deposits, and unraveling the hydrologic and climate history of Mars.</p>