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 proposal presents 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 will allow long-standing controversies relating to megascours to be resolved.
The proposal brings 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 systems have been used extensively to provide high resolution images of the subsurface in offshore environments but have never been applied in a river. However, by taking advantage of new technologies developed at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton our team is now in a position to generate the first quantitative datasets of river megascour morphology and associated deposits. Our focus will be scours near the confluence of the Ganges and Jamuna rivers and at sites further downstream. Over these sites an understanding of the sub-riverbed will be achieved by the collection of seismic reflection data (informed by a programme of coring and some additional ground penetrating radar data), while the nature and processes acting on the riverbed will be determined from multi-beam echosounder data. This will allow morphology and the associated fill of scours to be quantified and any downstream changes between sites to be fully assessed. We will use 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. A key output of the project will thus be the first fully evaluated generic numerical model of scour zone stratigraphy that will be widely applicable to a broad range of large rivers. We will also have developed protocols for undertaking seismic surveys within rivers, so opening up the technology for others. This has the potential to have a transformative impact upon the discipline allowing new datasets to be collected that will allow advances in fundamental river science.