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Model for the formation of single-thread rivers in barren landscapes and implications for pre-Silurian and martian fluvial deposits

Lapotre, Mathieu G. A. and Ielpi, Alessandro and Lamb, Michael P. and Williams, Rebecca M. E. and Knoll, Andrew H. (2019) Model for the formation of single-thread rivers in barren landscapes and implications for pre-Silurian and martian fluvial deposits. Journal of Geophysical Research. Earth Surface, 124 (12). pp. 2757-2777. ISSN 2169-9003. doi:10.1029/2019jf005156.

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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.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription
Lapotre, Mathieu G. A.0000-0001-9941-1552
Ielpi, Alessandro0000-0002-5376-9361
Lamb, Michael P.0000-0002-5701-0504
Williams, Rebecca M. E.0000-0003-1571-6952
Knoll, Andrew H.0000-0003-1308-8585
Additional Information:© 2019 The Authors. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Received 13 MAY 2019; Accepted 4 SEP 2019; Accepted article online 1 OCT 2019; Published online 3 DEC 2019. We thank four anonymous reviewers, B. McElroy,and the Associate Editor for thorough and insightful reviews, and A. J. F. Hoitink for editorial handling of our manuscript. M. Lapôtre was supported by the John Harvard Distinguished Science Fellowship Program within the FAS Division of Science of Harvard University. A. Ielpi was supported by a Discovery Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. A. Knoll thanks the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Data Availability: All data underlying the paper were published prior to our study(Moreton et al., 2003; Peakall et al., 2007; Bertoldi et al., 2009; Braudrick et al., 2009; van Dijk et al., 2012; DiBiase et al., 2013; Matsubara & Howard, 2014; Kite et al., 2015; Matsubara et al., 2015; Ielpi, 2018; Limaye et al., 2018; Ielpi & Lapôtre, 2019a-b), are cited throughout where appropriate, and can be accesseddirectly throughcited references.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Harvard UniversityUNSPECIFIED
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)UNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:rivers; meandering; mud; vegetation; Early Earth; Early Mars
Issue or Number:12
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20191001-104800575
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Official Citation:Lapôtre, M. G. A., Ielpi, A., Lamb, M. P., Williams, R. M. E., & Knoll, A. H. (2019). Model for the formation of single‐thread rivers in barren landscapes and implications for pre‐Silurian and Martian fluvial deposits. Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, 124, 2757–2777.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:98985
Deposited By: George Porter
Deposited On:01 Oct 2019 23:18
Last Modified:16 Nov 2021 17:43

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