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Braiding and meandering parameters

P. F. FRIEND & R. SINHA


Departmentof Earth Sciences,Universityof Cambridge,Downing Steet,
CambridgeCB2 3EQ, UK
Abstract: Modifications to standard definttrons of brarding and meandertng are proposed to
indicate the morphology of every rrver channel reach quantrtatrvely, whether tt_hassrngle
channel or multiple chinnels. Srnuosrty (P) rs defined as, P = L, ^'lLR, where L".", ts the
length of the midline of the channel (rn single-channel rivers), or the wldest channel
(inlnulti-channel rivers). and Lp is the overall length of the reach' Braiding rs a measure
'brard-channel ratlo' (B) has been defined as,
of channel multiplicity and a new term
B= L.rorlL" o,, where L.,o, is the total of the mrd-channel lengths of a-ll the channels tn a
reactt.'Anoiiiir e"p."ssion for the brard-channel ratto which gives the same numerical
rCsult iS, B= P"rorl'P,where the total sinuosity, P.,o,= L",o1/Lp, and P has been defined
above. Scatter pio$ on braid-channel ratlo/slnuoslty axes show a negatlve correlatton
between these parameters, as would be expected from the above relatlonshrps. Stnglechannel rivers (-B = l) have relatrvely hrgher srnuosrtresand the upper hmrt of these rs the
point at which cut-off becomes hrghly probable. For multi-channel rivers (A > I ), sinuoslty
iemains low, reflecting the limrtrng effect of braid bars on the development of fully
dcveloped spiral seconciaryflow. Data analysesshowing that increasesin channel slope and
bankfull diiharge are associatedwith changesfrom meandering to braided morpiology are
diverting attenti-on from the importance of the rncreased avarlability of bed-load-grade
sediment as a control.

A variety of river systems supplying water and


sediment to the Gangetic alluvial plarnsof Indta
have been investigated. These alluvral plains are
some of the most extensivein the world. so the
()l
examination has dcpcndcd hcirvily ()tl thc tr\c
'I'he
topographical maps and satelllte imagcs.
degree of braiding and meanderrng displayed by
these rivers varies greatly from rlver to rtver and
along the course of partlcular rlve rs. Ollc of thc
first steps has therefore been to devise methods
of measuring the degree of brardrng and
meandering which can be applied to all the
rivers, using maps and satellite tmagcs Wrth
existing schemes, a rivcr channel rcach cun
either be expressed ln terms of brardrng or
meandering (sinuosrty). Although arguments
'thresholds'
have been developed against the
between brarding and meandering that were
suggestedby Leopold & Wolman (1957)' there
have been very few attempts at devlsing
common Parameters to quantltatively express
the morphology of channelsthat vary from one
type to the other.
The first part of this paper discussesdefinitions of braiding and nrcanderrng, .rnd thc
modificationsof thesedefinrtronsthat havc been
adopted. Variations of thcsc numertcal
measurementsare then rllustrated, hrghhghting
some of thc factors that may bc tnvolvcd tn
causlngthe variatton

The meandering parameter (sinuosity)


Two minor modrficationshave been adopted to
the procedurespreviously used in defining the
slnuosity of channcls (e.g. l"copold & Wolman
1957). Firstly, the channel length has been
measured along a line that runs mid-way
between the channel banks. This has allowed
mcasuremcntreadlly from topographicalmaps,
aenal photographsand satellrteimages,and also
has the advantage that the channel length is
unlrkely to changeln a maJor way with changes
o f r r v e rw a t e r l e v e l .
Secondly, the rivers rn India show so many
transitions between srngle-channeland brarded
morphologies that it was found necessaryto
abandon the hard and fast distinction be{ween
braided and meandering classesof rivers, and
employ definitions of brarding and meandering
that can each be applied to every rrver, no matter
whether it has single or multrple channels, or
both. Therefore, the meandering (sinuostty)
parameter has been extended to multi-channel
situationswhere it is basedon the mid-channel
l e n g t ho f t h e c h a n n e lt h a t r sw t d e s tt n e a c hr e a c h
of the channel belt.
The modified sinuosttv parameter, P, rs
defrnedas
P = l . . n a , tL R

F r o m B e s l , J . L & B n s t o w , C S ( e d s ) . 1 9 9 7 .R r u c l e d R r v e r s 'G e o l o g r c a lS o c r e t y
S p e c i a lP u b h c a t r o nN o 7 5 , p p 1 0 5 -I I I

( l)

I05

r06

P F. FRIEND & R SINHA

( p a r a l l etlo t h ec h a n n ebl e l t )t h a nw r d t h ,s o t h a t
the total bank lengthwill be approximatedby
doublingthe islandor bar length.
into
Rust(1978)introducedtwo modifications
of braiding.He wasconcerned
themeasurement
about the variationsof apparentislandlength
that might be causedby fluctuationsof water
level (stage),and proposedthat the channel
'braid length'from
talwegsbe usedto define a
upstream divergence to downstream convergenceof the surroundingtalwegs.He also
pro-posedthat a meander length should be
measuredfor each channel belt (apparently
taking the major channelin a braided reach)'
SinuosityP=L*/Ln
and that this shouldbe usedto characterizethe
channelbelt.
of the
thecalculation
Fig.l. Diagramrepresenting
The braiding parameter (Bo) discussedby
nvers'
multi-channel
and
for single'channel
Sinuosity
Rust (1978, p. 188) appears to have been
measuredasfollows:
(3)
Bp=ZLvlL^
whereLs is the overalllengthof the channel-belt
the braid
reachmiasuredalonga straightline, and L"r- is where ly'-6 is the sum, in a reach,of
channel
between
above,
as
defined
lengths,
or
reach,
the
same
the mid-channel.lengthfor
and Lm is
the mid-channellength of the widest channel, talweg divergencesand confluences
in a reach
the mian of the meanderwavelengths
where there is more than one channel(Fig. l)'
of the channelbelt.
ratio'(8) in this
The proposed'braid-<hannel
Braiding parameters
paperbuilds clearlyon someof the approaches
(Fig. 2). It also
Brice (1964)useda braidingindex(BI)' defined irsiA in both these parameters
by
usesthe idea of'total sinuosity'developed
as follows:
Richards(1982)to measurethe braidingin some
(2)
Bl =2(2L,)lL,
gravel-bedrivers. This paper adopts a similar
useof the total activechannellengthwhich is as
and/or
islands
the
of
all
length
the
where 2L, is
follows:
reach
barsin the reach,and L, is the lengthof the
the
of
banks
the
between
midway
(4)
measured
B = L"rorlL"*.,
channelbelt.
lengths
Brice rationalizedthis definitionasa measure whereL.,o,is the sum of the mid-channel
of the total amount of bank length' wheremost of all the segmentsof primary channelsin a
the
islandsor barshavea significantlygreaterlength reach,and L*., is the mid-channellengthof

3p=!Lb/Lm
(Rust,l9?8)

B = Lctot /Lcm

(his papcr)

Fig.2. DiagramrepresentingthecalculationofthebraidingindicesofBrice(1964),Rust(1978)andthispaper.

t07

BRAIDING AND MEANDERING PARAMETERS

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l3

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l4

tl

l3

o
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l4

,""fu?gn
^

- P a

t2

l6

l4

!.

''%t'u
l9

1
l6
t t

21

+"tQr

2l

*a(')

16

;t8:1i$?
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22

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l9

\r.

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22

18

l7

rs7

l5

d<o,

l6

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2g)

o \

e)
e'li

, q
F i g . 3 . D r a g r a m m a t r c m a p s r l l u s t r a l l n g t h e a l l u vr er aalc h e s o f t h r e e o f t h e r t v e r s o f n o r t h e r n B r h a r . l n d rTah e s e
h a v e b c e n d r v r d c d r n t o l 0 k m r c a c h e sa n d t h e s r n u o s r t y( P ) a n d b r a r d - c h a n n e lr a t r o s( B ) c a l c u l a t e d

108

P F. FRIEND & R . S I N H A

three differenttypesof Indian rivers.The three


riversall flow acrossthe plainsof north Bihar in
easternIndia and then join either the Ganges
which is the main W-E-flowing axialriver of the
Himalayanforedeep,or the Kosi,the nextmain
river to the east.For eachriver, the parameters
havebeenmeasuredfor a continuoussequence
ofreaches,eachreachbeing10km long.It may
however be emphasizedthat some local or
seasonalvariationsin the river channelmorphology may not be reflectedin this scheme;the
reach length of l0km may be rather large to
record these effects.For most of the reaches.
topographicmaps of I :63360 scalehave been
used,datingbetween1905and 1947exceptthat,
in a few cases,the only maps availablewere
=
=
(5)
L,rn l(P x 1-*) P.,o,/P
B
l:253440. For eachriver, the parameters
have
which may be more convenient ways of measur- beentabulated(Table 1), and arealsopresented
ing the parameter.
asscatterplots(Fig.4).
The Gandakriver risesin the high mountains
of
the Himalayasand is braidedthroughoutits
Variation patterns
coursebetweenthe point whereit emergesin the
Figures 3 and 4'provide some examples of the plains to its confluencewith the Ganga. The
use of the brard-channel ratio (B) and sinuosity sinuosityvaluesare generallylow. The braid(P) in measuring the variable morphology of
channelratio tends to be highest(up to 5.4)
wrdest channel through the reach, as defined for
equation ( I ) above. The specificationof primary
channels recognizes that some braiding patterns
display a scalinghierarchyofchannel sizes(Rust
1978), and that only the major ones would be
used for this measurement. The widest channel
in a reach would be taken as the major channel.
In essence, the proposed braid-channel ratio
measures the tendency of a channel belt to
develop multiple channels in any reach. If a
reach has only a singlechannel,with no braids,B
will have a value of unity, and will thus compare
with measurement of sinuosity (P) which will
also have a minimum value of unity. Equations
(1) and (4) may be combined, as follows:

'G)
o ( hr

(t)

1
2
3
4
5
B r a i d - c h a n n eRl a l i o ( B )

Braid-channel Ratio (B)

RRAIDI DMTANDIiRINC TR NSTNON


(RaShmatr Rrvcr, Indra)

(c)

,tl
( l ' =I . I l = l )

Braid-channcl Ratio (B)

l'ig.4. Dragramsofthcvartattonofstnuosrty(P
) d b r a r d . - c h a n n real t r o ( B ) f o r e a c h o f t h e t h r e e l n d i a n r r v e r s
an
ol [:rg ]

BRAIDING

AND

109

PARAMETF.RS

MEANDERING

Table l. Smuostlv var,ation m North Bthar nvers' Indn


Reach
No.

2
3
A

5
6
7
8
9
10
ll
12
l3
1 A

l5
t6
17
18
l9

z0
2l
22
LJ

Gandak Rrver
(Braided)

1.45
1.21
1.45
1.09
1.13
1.0
1.0
1.05
1.05
|.21
1.37
l .l3
|.21
I.13
1.05
l.13
1.05

r.29
1 r. 3
l .13
1.18
1.10

'j

1A

25
26
27
28

3.21
4.83
1.33
1.89
3.38
4.79
5.1'7
4.83
5.38
2.92
2.67
2.76
2.50
2.13
2.50
1.85
2.93
4.00
3.06
2.79
1.86
l.88
1.94
,.tt

Burhi Gandak Rtver


(Meandering)

153
1.85
1.93
1.45
1.69

r.93

1.37
2.25
1.61
1.93
3.38
1.93
2.57
2.25
2.28

r.29
2.09
l.6r
t.2r
1.69
1.45
1.77
1.53

2.m

1.37
2.49
2.09
145

1.00
1.00
1.00
r.00
1.00
1.00
1.00
1.00
1.00
1.00
l.00
1.00
1.00
1.00
1.00
1.00
1.m
1.00
1.00
l.00
1.00
1.00
1.00
r.00
1.00
1.00
r.00
1.00

Baghmatr Rtver
( Braided/meandering)

1.0
1.0
1.29
1.61
1.45
r.29
r 2t
1.53
l 03
r.29
L29
1.03
l.61
| 29
1.61
1.13
l .69
1.93
1.13
1.61
1.45
2.01
2.25
2.09
2.41

1.67
1.58
1.25
1.00
1.00
1.00
I.00
1.00
1.00
1.00
1.00
1.00
1.00
1.00
1.00
1.00
1.00
1.00
1.00
1.00
1.00
1.00
1.00
1.00
1.00

monsoonal rains of the foothills zone, and the


in the upstream reaches. The Burhi Gandak
ready availability of sand-grade sediment from
originates within the plains and has a braidthe foothills. In reaches7 to 13 the Baghmati is
channcl ratio of unity throughout, i.c. it is not
braided. Sinuosity varies considerably, and is clearly anastomosing, with a well-developed
southwestern anabranch. Anastomosing is a
highest in the middle reachbs (reaches 8-15)
where it flows acrossa distinct zone of the plains different order of phenomenon than the channel
where there is a systemof highly sinuouspalaeo- bars and bends considered here. The question of
channels and lakes that is very obvious on the anastomosing is not discussed further in this
satellite images. It seems likely that the high brief review. The sinuosity of the Baghmati river
tends to be relatively high in the lowest reaches,
sinuosities in these reachesof the Burhi Gandak
just before the confluence with the Kosi.
are due to the partial occupation of the highly
Figure 5 is a highly schematic diagram sumsinuous palaeochannels,and to the influence of
marizing the range of variability in data on the
the variable substrate they have left. The
north Bihar rivers, generalizing the features that
Baghmati river rises in the foothills near
would be expected in any such scatter diagram.
Kathmandu in Nepal and cuts through the foothills before emerging onto the alluvial plains. Theoretically, straight, single channels, with
8=1 and P=1, provide an origin for the
It is braided for the three upstream reaches on
the plains, though with a relatively low brai.d- variation. As seenon Fig. 5, sinuosity and braidchannel ratio (1.7 to 1.3), but then becomes channel ratio tend to correlate negatively, and
unbraided, and sinuous for the rest of its course this is not surprising in the light of equation (5),
to the Kosi. This restricted zone of upstream above. Channel belts developing along the
single-channel, meandering arm of the scatter
braiding seemstyprcal of these rivers arising in
the foothills, and probably reflects the heavy have higher sinuosities,and a natural hmit on

110

P. F. FRIEND & R. SINTIA

for about 100 river reaches,plottrng a polnt for


each reach against axes of lo9,6 barrkfull discharge, and log,o channel slope. A discnmrnant
line on this scatter plot discnminated qurte
= J
z
well between the braided reaches and the
g
meandering (high sinuosity) reaches. Partlcu'a)
z
larly for the intermediate values, relatively
H
tr
higher slope values, and/or higher drscharge
=
q 1
values clearly tend to be characteristic of the
-braided reaches. This plot has (unreasonably)
{
,rnarcnr
encourageda general belief that the particular
0
J
variables, slope and discharge, determrne
Braid-channelRatio (B)
on their own whether a nver is braided or
meandering.
In contrast, there is considerable evidence
Fig. 5. Generalized diagram of the variation of range
that braiding is strongly influenced by hrgh
of variation of sinuosity (P) and braid--channel ratio
availability of bed-load sediment, relative to
(B) expected in natural rivers, wrth two limits
suspended-loadsediment.Chitale (1970)clearty
discussed in the text shown.
showed that width-depth ratio and mean grain
size of the bed material are closely correlated
with channel pattern. Ferguson (1984, 1987) has
the sinuosity valueswould be expectedwhere it discussed, much more fully than us, the disbecomes increasinglyinevitable that channel crimination of meandering and braided morphbelts will intersecteachother, therebydecreas- ologies and concludes that a grain-size term
ing the sinuosity.Chitale(1970)presentedsome should be incorporated with slope-discharge in
data on the limiting valuesof sinuosity(tortu- the discriminant function. Carson (1984) also
osity ratio) and concludedthat values greater rejects the idea of any purely hydraulic threshold
than 5.5 are rarely met with in practice. In for channel pattern as this will vary signifithe casc of thc north Bihar rivcrs, using thc c a n t l yw i t h t h c b c d a n d b a n k t r l l l c n l l s c d r r r r c n t
parametersdefined in this note, the limiting
Although the availability of drfferent grarnvalue is 3.5. However. measurements
of lower size compo.nents is likely to be influenced by
reach lengthsmay yield a rather higher value. hydraulic factors, other factors, such as the
Channel belts developingin the braided arm previous geomorphological and geological
have lower sinuosities,and here a natural limit history of the area, may be even more
on the degreeof sinuositymay be provided by important. This is because the sediment availthe tendencyof braids and in-channelbars to able in any reach of a channel belt may include
inhibit the developmentof spiralsecondaryflow sediment supplied by:

which will, in turn, limit the curvature of the


channels.

(i)
(ii)
(iii)

Speculations on the controls


In suggestingmodifications to the methods
previouslyemployedto measurethe amountof
braiding or meanderingin rivers, the ultimate
interestof the paper is not simply,of course,to
quantifythe patterns,but is to understandbetter
the factors that produce the varying patterns,
representedon a diagramlike Fig. 5. Here, a few
preliminary commentsare offered in the hope
that discussionmay clarify the questionsand
improve future researchapproaches.
Leopold et al. (1964,p. 292) presenteddata

(iv)
(v)

the upstream reach of the same channel


tributarychannels
overbank flows that drain into the channel
belt and material entrained or eroded
from older deposits in
the banks, or
the bed

Systematic surveys of the parameters suggested


here in varying river reaches, like those of Fig. 3
in India, should also examine sediment availability, to provide a closer understanding of the
controls over braiding and meandering.
We thank J. Best, R. Fergusonand A. Werrity for
their constructivecomments.This is CambrideeEarth
Sciences
ContributionNo. 3087.

BRAIDING AND MEANDERING PARAMETERS

ltl

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