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Threshold constraints on the size, shape and stability of alluvial rivers

Phillips, Colin B. and Masteller, Claire C. and Slater, Louise J. and Dunne, Kieran B. J. and Francalanci, Simona and Lanzoni, Stefano and Merritts, Dorothy J. and Lajeunesse, Eric and Jerolmack, Douglas J. (2022) Threshold constraints on the size, shape and stability of alluvial rivers. Nature Reviews Earth and Environment, 3 (6). pp. 406-419. ISSN 2662-138X. doi:10.1038/s43017-022-00282-z.

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The geometry of alluvial river channels both controls and adjusts to the flow of water and sediment within them. This feedback between flow and form modulates flood risk, and the impacts of climate and land-use change. Considering widely varying hydro-climates, sediment supply, geology and vegetation, it is surprising that rivers follow remarkably consistent hydraulic geometry scaling relations. In this Perspective, we explore the factors governing river channel geometry, specifically how the threshold of sediment motion constrains the size and shape of channels. We highlight the utility of the near-threshold channel model as a suitable framework to explain the average size and stability of river channels, and show how deviations relate to complex higher-order behaviours. Further characterization of the sediment transport threshold and channel adjustment timescales, coupled with probabilistic descriptions of river geometry, promise the development of future models capable of capturing rivers’ natural complexity.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription ReadCube access Information
Phillips, Colin B.0000-0001-9950-2497
Masteller, Claire C.0000-0002-6830-7223
Slater, Louise J.0000-0001-9416-488X
Dunne, Kieran B. J.0000-0003-0995-7629
Francalanci, Simona0000-0002-6013-2203
Lanzoni, Stefano0000-0002-6621-2386
Merritts, Dorothy J.0000-0003-3663-8172
Lajeunesse, Eric0000-0002-0950-6054
Jerolmack, Douglas J.0000-0003-4358-6999
Additional Information:© 2022 Springer Nature Limited. Accepted 04 March 2022; Published 03 May 2022. The authors thank G. Parker for inspiring this review, his brilliance and enthusiasm has touched nearly every aspect of this work. The idea for this manuscript developed out of conversations at the River, Coastal and Estuarine Morphodynamics (RCEM) 2019 symposium; the authors are grateful to the organizers H. Friedrich and K. Roisin Bryan for that stimulating forum. Work was supported by Army Research Office (Award Number W911NF2010113) and National Science Foundation (NSF), National Robotics Initiative Grant (Award Number 1734365) to D.J.J. Data availability: The data associated with this manuscript are published75 and available through Hydroshare: Contributions: C.B.P. and D.J.J. developed the idea and structure of this Perspective, with input from all authors. All authors contributed to writing, data analysis and interpretation. The authors declare no competing interests. Peer review information: Nature Reviews Earth Environment thanks M. Church, R. Hodge, and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Army Research Office (ARO)W911NF2010113
Issue or Number:6
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20220519-44312100
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Phillips, C.B., Masteller, C.C., Slater, L.J. et al. Threshold constraints on the size, shape and stability of alluvial rivers. Nat Rev Earth Environ 3, 406–419 (2022).
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:114807
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:19 May 2022 18:59
Last Modified:29 Jun 2022 14:35

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