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Research project

The sedimentology of fluvial megascours

Project overview

A common feature of rivers is that at bends, or where two channels join, they scour out their beds to depths that greatly exceed the average depth along their course. In the World’s largest rivers such features are truly ‘megascours’ reaching depths of 50 m. However, despite their widespread occurrence, they are a relatively unquantified phenomenon due to issues associated with obtaining measurements from such locations. This lack of understanding matters because knowledge of megascours has a number of key societal (destruction of infrastructure) and economic (hydrocarbon exploration) applications. To tackle this pressing issue this project developed a unique methodology based on application of state-of-the-art high resolution marine seismic technologies together with a programme of coring and numerical modelling that allowed long-standing controversies relating to megascours to be resolved.

The project brought together a novel collaboration between marine scientists, river sedimentologist and numerical modellers in one of the World’s largest rivers, the Jamuna, Bangladesh. Marine seismic boomer and chirp profilers were used to image the sub-riverbed, while a multibeam bathymetry system was used to map the channel scour. We mapped scours near the confluence of the Ganges and Jamuna rivers and at sites further downstream. We used this data to evaluate a numerical model of megascour sedimentology that can then be used, for the first time, to test contrasting conceptual models, largely developed on inference in the absence of data, of how megascours function and what they look like in the rock record. We developed a physically-based morphodynamic model that was applied to simulate the evolution and alluvial architecture of large river junctions. Boundary conditions within the model were defined to approximate the junction of the Ganges and Jamuna rivers, Bangladesh, with the model output being supplemented by geophysical datasets collected at this junction. The numerical simulations reveal several distinct styles of sedimentary fill that are related to the morphodynamic behaviour of bars, confluence scour downstream of braid bars, bend scour and major junction scour. Comparison with existing, largely qualitative, conceptual models reveals that none of these can be applied simply, although elements of each are evident in the deposits generated by the numerical simulation and observed in the geophysical data. The characteristics of the simulated scour deposits are found to vary according to the degree of reworking caused by channel migration, a factor not considered adequately in current conceptual models of confluence sedimentology. The alluvial architecture of major junction scours is thus characterized by the prevalence of erosion surfaces in conjunction with the thickest depositional sets. Confluence scour downstream of braid bar and bend scour sites may preserve some large individual sets, but these locations are typically characterized by lower average set thickness compared to major junction scour and by a lack of large-scale erosional surfaces. Areas of deposition not related to any of the specific scour types highlighted above record the thinnest depositional sets. This variety in the alluvial architecture of scours may go some way towards explaining the paradox of ancient junction scours, that while abundant large scours are likely in the rock record, they have been reported rarely. The present results outline the likely range of confluence sedimentology and will serve as a new tool for recognizing and interpreting these deposits in the ancient fluvial record.


Lead researcher

Professor Jonathan Bull

Professor in Ocean & Earth Science

Research interests

  • Fluid Flow and Carbon Capture and Storage
  • Monitoring, Measurement and Verification
  • Marine Geophysics
Connect with Jonathan

Research outputs

Greg Sambrook Smith, Andrew Nicholas, James Best, Jonathan Bull, Simon Dixon, Steve Goodbred, Mamin Sarkar & Mark Vardy, 2018, Sedimentology, 1-39
Type: article
Simon J. Dixon, Gregory H. Sambrook Smith, James L. Best, Andrew P. Nicholas, Jon. M. Bull, Mark E. Vardy, Maminul H. Sarkar & Steven Goodbred, 2017, Earth-Science Reviews, 176, 1-18
Type: article