Anabranching in mixed bedrock-alluvial rivers: the example of the Orange River above Augrabies Falls, Northern Cape Province, South Africa
Anabranching is characteristic of a number of rivers in diverse environmental settings worldwide, but has only infrequently been described from bedrock-influenced rivers. A prime example of a mixed bedrock-alluvial anabranching river is provided by a ∼150-km long reach of the Orange River above Augrabies Falls, Northern Cape Province, South Africa. Here, the perennial Orange flows through arid terrain consisting mainly of Precambrian granites and gneisses, and the river has preferentially eroded bedrock joints, fractures and foliations to form multiple channels which divide around numerous, large (up to ∼15 km long and ∼2 km wide), stable islands formed of alluvium and/or bedrock. Significant local variations in channel-bed gradient occur along the river, which strongly control anabranching style through an influence on local sediment budgets. In relatively long (>10 km), lower gradient reaches (<0.0013) within the anabranching reach, sediment supply exceeds local transport capacity, bedrock usually only crops out in channel beds, and channels divide around alluvial islands which are formed by accretion in the lee of bedrock outcrop or at the junction with ephemeral tributaries. Riparian vegetation probably plays a key role in the survival and growth of these islands by increasing flow roughness, inducing deposition, and stabilising the sediments. Less commonly, channels may form by eroding into once-continuous island or floodplain surfaces. In shorter (<10 km), higher gradient reaches (>0.0013) within the anabranching reach, local transport capacity exceeds sediment supply, bedrock crops out extensively, and channels flow over an irregular bedrock pavement or divide around rocky islands. Channel incision into bedrock probably occurs mainly by abrasion, with the general absence of boulder bedforms suggesting that hydraulic plucking is relatively unimportant in this setting. Mixed bedrock-alluvial anabranching also occurs in a number of other rivers worldwide, and appears to be a stable and often long-lived river pattern adjusted to a number of factors commonly acting in combination: (1) jointed/fractured granitoid rock outcrop; (2) erosion-resistant banks and islands; (3) locally variable channel-bed gradients; (4) variable flow regimes.