Arroyo widening dominates postincisional arroyo development, and the manner of widening is dependent on the grain size of bed material transported by the channel.
When bed material is predominantly gravel, subaqueous bars that alternate from one side of the channel to the other form during high flows in initially narrow, often straight, arroyos. These alternate bars grow and become coarse-grained point bars. Moderate and low flows cannot rework these coarse bars, and the channel meanders around them. Arroyo walls opposite the bars are undercut and eroded. With progressive arroyo widening by erosion of cut banks, high-flow channel width increases, and depth decreases, reducing channel competence. Gravel is deposited in midchannel bars, point bars are reworked, and the channel becomes braided. As braiding becomes dominant, both arroyo walls are eroded. This conceptual model of coarse-grained arroyo development is based on observations of arroyo development through time using physical models and interpretation of the channel and arroyo morphology and sedimentology during a short period along the San Simon, San Pedro, and Santa Cruz Rivers in southeast Arizona.
When bed material is predominantly sand, the channel pattern within initial arroyos is typically braided, and both arroyo walls are actively eroded. Alternate bars may form within single-thread, high-flow channels, but they are reworked during recessional flows, and the .low-flow channel is again braided. With progressive arroyo widening, fine sand, silt, and clay carried in suspension are deposited across a flood plain within the wide arroyo, causing the channel to meander. This fine-grained arroyo development model is based on observations of arroyo development through time using physical models and interpretation of the channel and arroyo morphology and sedimentology during a short period along the Rio Puerco, New Mexico.
Experimental investigations using physical models in which incised channels were monitored through time indicate that the rate of arroyo widening is dependent on the amount of bedload transported through a reach. This is documented by the relations between the rate of arroyo erosion and the observed sediment transport, the channel slope, the channel width and the channel width-to-depth ratio. When a small amount of bed material is being transported, arroyos do not widen whether they are narrow (arroyo width-to-depth ratios between 1.5 and 3.1), intermediate (between 2.5 and 4.8), or wide (greater than 4.9). Arroyo widening resumes when a larger supply of bed material is introduced.
Arroyo widening decreases through time because with progressive increases of arroyo width, the frequency with which unstable channels within the arroyo impinge upon arroyo walls decreases. Arroyos become wider in a downstream direction in response to the cumulative effect of upstream sediment production.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
The significance of sediment transport in arroyo development
Water Supply Paper
U.S. G.P.O ;
For sale by the Books and Open-File Reports Section, U.S. Geological Survey,