Meandering rivers in modern desert basins: implications for channel planform controls and prevegetation rivers

Maurício G.M. Santos (Corresponding Author), Adrian J. Hartley, Nigel P. Mountney, Jeff Peakall, Amanda Owen, Eder R. Merino, Mario L. Assine

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The influence of biotic processes in controlling the development of meandering channels in fluvial systems is controversial. The majority of the depositional history of the Earth’s continents was devoid of significant biogeomorphic interactions, particularly those between vegetation and sedimentation processes. The prevailing perspective has been that prevegetation meandering channels rarely developed and that rivers with braided planforms dominated. However, recently acquired data demonstrate that meandering channel planforms are more widely preserved in prevegetation fluvial successions than previously thought. Understanding the role of prevailing fluvial dynamics in non- and poorly vegetated environments must rely on actualistic models derived from presently active rivers developed in sedimentary basins subject to desert-climate settings, the sparsest vegetated regions experiencing active sedimentation on Earth. These systems have fluvial depositional settings that most closely resemble those present in prevegetation (and extra-terrestrial) environments. Here, we present an analysis based on satellite imagery which reveals that rivers with meandering channel planforms are common in modern sedimentary basins in desert settings. Morphometric analysis of meandering fluvial channel behaviour, where vegetation is absent or highly restricted, shows that modern sparsely and nonvegetated meandering rivers occur across a range of slope gradients and basin settings, and possess a broad range of channel and meander-belt dimensions. The importance of meandering rivers in modern desert settings suggests that their abundance is likely underestimated in the prevegetation rock record, and models for recognition of their deposits need to be improved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalSedimentary Geology
Early online date14 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2019


  • meandering rivers
  • arid sedimentary basins
  • prevegetation fluvial deposits
  • remote sensing
  • modern analogues
  • dryland


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