PROGRESS IN GEOGRAPHY ›› 2016, Vol. 35 ›› Issue (7): 898-909.doi: 10.18306/dlkxjz.2016.07.011

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Progress on the study of fluvial process of wandering rivers and discussion about its channel pattern classification

Zhehui XIE1,2, Heqing HUANG1,*(), Yuanyuan ZHOU1, Min ZHANG1,2,3   

  1. 1. Key Laboratory of Water Cycle and Related Land Surface Processes, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
    2. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
    3. Yellow River Institute of Hydraulic Research, Zhengzhou 450003, China
  • Received:2016-02-01 Revised:2016-05-01 Online:2016-07-20 Published:2016-07-20
  • Contact: Heqing HUANG
  • Supported by:
    Foundation: Key Program of National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41330751; International Science & Technology Cooperation Program of China, No.2013DFA91700; National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.51179181


Wandering rivers frequently occur in China, especially in northern China, with the wandering reach of the lower Yellow River as the most typical case. However, controversy concerning their channel pattern classification remains. While such rivers are widely regarded as wandering or wandering-braided channel in China, they are categorized as braiding rivers largely by the international geomorphological community. In this article, the wandering reach of the lower Yellow River is taken as an example and the evolutionary characteristics of channel morphology is summarized, focusing on the factors influenced the channel evolution in different periods. Based on the summary, a comparison is made between braiding and wandering rivers, including their channel definitions, morphological features, sediment characteristics, forming processes, and energy expenditure features. Especially, the wandering channel pattern mainly develops in a low energy slope environment that is far less than the minimum energy slope required for transporting sediment load. So it usually presents unstable features. The braided channel pattern can exist where river energy is lower or higher than the minimum energy slope. Therefore, it is essential to distinguish these two channel patterns. The article also discusses prospects for studies in the future and points out that focusing on the physical mechanisms for channel formation, developing and refining the energy theory, and examining the differences and similarities of wandering channel and braided channel systematically can help to solve the problem of classifiying wandering rivers.

Key words: wandering rivers, braiding rivers, channel pattern classification, energy expenditure mechanism, research progress