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Concept: Sedimentology


Sedimentary dispersal systems with fine-grained beds are common, yet the physics of sediment movement within them remains poorly constrained. We analyze sediment transport data for the best-documented, fine-grained river worldwide, the Huanghe (Yellow River) of China, where sediment flux is underpredicted by an order of magnitude according to well-accepted sediment transport relations. Our theoretical framework, bolstered by field observations, demonstrates that the Huanghe tends toward upper-stage plane bed, yielding minimal form drag, thus markedly enhancing sediment transport efficiency. We present a sediment transport formulation applicable to all river systems with silt to coarse-sand beds. This formulation demonstrates a remarkably sensitive dependence on grain size within a certain narrow range and therefore has special relevance to silt-sand fluvial systems, particularly those affected by dams.

Concepts: Sediment, River, Erosion, Silt, Yellow River, Sand, Sediment transport, Sedimentology


Although relatively easy to extract in the marine environment, microplastics are very difficult to recover when they are trapped in sediments. The elutriation column is one of the best tools currently available for extracting plastics from sediment, but with a high sand recovery yield. This study aims to address the following questions: (i) is it possible to use a sedimentological approach to limit the sand recovery? (ii) does the extraction velocity of the sand and plastic particles vary according to density and granulometry? (iii) what is the relative recovery efficiency obtained for dense polymer particles mixed with marine sand? Based on a new granulometric classification, different plastic particle-size fractions are defined. Their extraction velocities are experimentally determined on particles of sediment and different plastics (PA, PVC). The particle recovery experiments indicate that it is possible to extract >90% of dense plastic particles in cases of negligible sand recovery.

Concepts: Density, Sediment, Erosion, Plastic, Polyvinyl chloride, Gravel, Relative velocity, Sedimentology


Catastrophic floods generated ~3.2 Ga by rapid groundwater evacuation scoured the Solar System’s most voluminous channels, the southern circum-Chryse outflow channels. Based on Viking Orbiter data analysis, it was hypothesized that these outflows emanated from a global Hesperian cryosphere-confined aquifer that was infused by south polar meltwater infiltration into the planet’s upper crust. In this model, the outflow channels formed along zones of superlithostatic pressure generated by pronounced elevation differences around the Highland-Lowland Dichotomy Boundary. However, the restricted geographic location of the channels indicates that these conditions were not uniform Boundary. Furthermore, some outflow channel sources are too high to have been fed by south polar basal melting. Using more recent mission data, we argue that during the Late Noachian fluvial and glacial sediments were deposited into a clastic wedge within a paleo-basin located in the southern circum-Chryse region, which was then completely submerged under a primordial northern plains ocean. Subsequent Late Hesperian outflow channels were sourced from within these geologic materials and formed by gigantic groundwater outbursts driven by an elevated hydraulic head from the Valles Marineris region. Thus, our findings link the formation of the southern circum-Chryse outflow channels to ancient marine, glacial, and fluvial erosion and sedimentation.

Concepts: Water, Earth, Sediment, Solar System, Mars, Hydrology, Aquifer, Sedimentology


The discovery of remarkably rounded pebbles by the rover Curiosity, within an exhumed alluvial fan complex in Gale Crater, presents some of the most compelling evidence yet for sustained fluvial activity on Mars. While rounding is known to result from abrasion by inter-particle collisions, geologic interpretations of sediment shape have been qualitative. Here we show how quantitative information on the transport distance of river pebbles can be extracted from their shape alone, using a combination of theory, laboratory experiments and terrestrial field data. We determine that the Martian basalt pebbles have been carried tens of kilometres from their source, by bed-load transport on an alluvial fan. In contrast, angular clasts strewn about the surface of the Curiosity traverse are indicative of later emplacement by rock fragmentation processes. The proposed method for decoding transport history from particle shape provides a new tool for terrestrial and planetary sedimentology.

Concepts: Scientific method, Sediment, Planet, Mars, Experiment, Quantitative research, Sedimentology


The Sahara experienced several humid episodes during the late Quaternary, associated with the development of vast fluvial networks and enhanced freshwater delivery to the surrounding ocean margins. In particular, marine sediment records off Western Sahara indicate deposition of river-borne material at those times, implying sustained fluvial discharges along the West African margin. Today, however, no major river exists in this area; therefore, the origin of these sediments remains unclear. Here, using orbital radar satellite imagery, we present geomorphological data that reveal the existence of a large buried paleodrainage network on the Mauritanian coast. On the basis of evidence from the literature, we propose that reactivation of this major paleoriver during past humid periods contributed to the delivery of sediments to the Tropical Atlantic margin. This finding provides new insights for the interpretation of terrigenous sediment records off Western Africa, with important implications for our understanding of the paleohydrological history of the Sahara.

Concepts: Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, River, Algeria, Berber people, Sediment transport, Mauritania, Sedimentology


Adsorption of radiocesium (RCs) on particulate matters in aquatic environment is important to understand its mobility and bioavailability. We here focused on factors controlling partition of RCs on particulate matters and sediments in Kuchibuto (Fukushima) and Pripyat (Chernobyl) Rivers, though RCs level in water was much smaller than WHO guideline. Moreover, Cs speciation and organic matter-clay mineral interaction were studied: (i) extended X-ray absorption fine structure showed that the contribution of outer-sphere complex of Cs on particulate matters is larger in Chernobyl than in Fukushima and (ii) scanning transmission X-ray microscope revealed larger association of humic substances and clay minerals in Chernobyl partly due to high [Ca(2+)] in the Pripyat River. Consequently, RCs is more soluble in the Pripyat River due to weaker interaction of RCs with clay minerals caused by the inhibition effect of the adsorbed humic substances. In contrast, particulate matters and sediments in the Kuchibuto River display high adsorption affinity with lesser inhibition effect of adsorbed humic substances. This difference is possibly governed by the geology and soil type of provenances surrounding both catchments (Fukushima: weathered granite; Chernobyl: peat wetland and carbonate platform) which leads to high concentrations of organic matter and Ca(2+) in the Pripyat River.

Concepts: Chernobyl disaster, Soil, Sedimentary rock, River, Humus, Belarus, Sedimentology, Pripyat River


Biodiversity declined markedly over the past 150 years, with the biodiversity loss in fluvial ecosystems exceeding the global average. River restoration now aims at flood safety while enhancing biodiversity and has had success locally. However, at the scale of large river distributaries, the recovery remained elusive. We quantify changes in biodiversity of protected and endangered species over 15 years of river restoration in the embanked floodplains of an entire river delta. We distinguish seven taxonomic groups and four functional groups in more than 2 million field observations of species presence. Of all 179 fluvial floodplain sections examined, 137 showed an increase in biodiversity, particularly for fast-spreading species. Birds and mammals showed the largest increase, that is, +13 and +3 percentage point saturation of their potential based on habitat. This shows that flood risk interventions were successfully combined with enhancement of biodiversity, whereas flood stage decreased (-24 cm).

Concepts: Biodiversity, Species, Hydrology, River, Endangered species, Fluvial landforms, Sedimentology, Fluvial terrace


High-resolution 32-20 Ma-old stratigraphic records from the Molasse foreland basin situated north of the Alps, and Gonfolite Lombarda conglomerates deposited on the southern Alpine margin, document two consecutive sedimentary responses - an immediate and delayed response - to slab breakoff beneath the central Alps c. 32-30 Ma ago. The first signal, which occurred due to rebound and surface uplift in the Alps, was a regional and simultaneous switch from basin underfill to overfill at 30 Ma paired with shifts to coarse-grained depositional environments in the foreland basin. The second signal, however, arrived several million years after slab breakoff and was marked by larger contributions of crystalline clasts in the conglomerates, larger clast sizes, larger sediment fluxes and shifts to more proximal facies. We propose that this secondary pulse reflects a delayed whiplash-type erosional response to surface uplift, where erosion and sediment flux became amplified through positive feedbacks once larger erosional thresholds of crystalline bedrock were exceeded.

Concepts: Sediment, Erosion, Switzerland, Alps, Sedimentology, Swiss Alps, Bernese Alps, Foreland basin


The world’s rivers deliver 19 billion tonnes of sediment to the coastal zone annually, with a considerable fraction being sequestered in large deltas, home to over 500 million people. Most (more than 70 per cent) large deltas are under threat from a combination of rising sea levels, ground surface subsidence and anthropogenic sediment trapping, and a sustainable supply of fluvial sediment is therefore critical to prevent deltas being ‘drowned’ by rising relative sea levels. Here we combine suspended sediment load data from the Mekong River with hydrological model simulations to isolate the role of tropical cyclones in transmitting suspended sediment to one of the world’s great deltas. We demonstrate that spatial variations in the Mekong’s suspended sediment load are correlated (r = 0.765, P < 0.1) with observed variations in tropical-cyclone climatology, and that a substantial portion (32 per cent) of the suspended sediment load reaching the delta is delivered by runoff generated by rainfall associated with tropical cyclones. Furthermore, we estimate that the suspended load to the delta has declined by 52.6 ± 10.2 megatonnes over recent years (1981-2005), of which 33.0 ± 7.1 megatonnes is due to a shift in tropical-cyclone climatology. Consequently, tropical cyclones have a key role in controlling the magnitude of, and variability in, transmission of suspended sediment to the coast. It is likely that anthropogenic sediment trapping in upstream reservoirs is a dominant factor in explaining past, and anticipating future, declines in suspended sediment loads reaching the world's major deltas. However, our study shows that changes in tropical-cyclone climatology affect trends in fluvial suspended sediment loads and thus are also key to fully assessing the risk posed to vulnerable coastal systems.

Concepts: Sediment, Hydrology, River, River delta, Sediment transport, Sedimentology, Suspended load, Rouse number


Gran Dolina is a cavity infilled by at least 25 m of Pleistocene sediments. This sequence contains the TD6 stratigraphic unit, whose records include around 170 hominin bones that have allowed the definition of a new species, Homo antecessor. This fossil accumulation was studied as a single assemblage and interpreted as a succession of several human home bases. We propose a complete stratigraphic context and sedimentological interpretation for TD6, analyzing the relationships between the sedimentary facies, the clasts and archaeo-palaeontological remains. The TD6 unit has been divided into three sub-units and 13 layers. Nine sedimentary facies have been defined. Hominin remains appear related to three different sedimentary facies: debris flow facies, channel facies and floodplain facies. They show three kinds of distribution: first a group of scattered fossils, then a group with layers of fossils in fluvial facies, and third a group with a layer of fossils in mixed fluvial and gravity flow facies. The results of this work suggest that some of these hominin remains accumulated in the cave by geological processes, coming from the adjacent slope above the cave or the cave entry, as the palaeogeography and sedimentary characteristics of these allochthonous facies suggest.

Concepts: Sediment, Sedimentary rock, Geology, Fossil, Geologic time scale, Sedimentology, Stratigraphy, Facies