Paraná River Project - Background: Summary

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Living with the river Downstream view of the Paraná River

Paraná Project Summary

The drainage basins of the World’s ten largest rivers amount to 17% of the global continental drainage area and deliver ~33% of the sediment load transported into the oceans. Despite the global importance of these rivers, our present knowledge-base relating to the morphology, flow dynamics and sedimentology of large rivers is wholly inadequate. We have good theoretical reason to question whether big rivers are the same as small rivers and evidence is now emerging that the dominant processes and deposits of large rivers may be fundamentally different to currently accepted wisdom.

In this project we will investigate one of the World's largest rivers, the Paraná-Paraguay in Argentina to understand: (1) what controls water and sediment movement and river channel changes over time; and (2) what this means for the formation and preservation of river sedimentary deposits. We will address these issues by (a) using state-of-the-art field instrumentation to map river bed morphology and its evolution through time, and measure the three-dimensional patterns of water and sediment movement around and over channel bars; (b) using Ground Penetrating Radar to map the three-dimensional sedimentary structure of braid-bar deposits, both within the current river and in formerly active areas that have been abandoned over the past few thousand years; and (c) integrating Computational Fluid Dynamics models that provide a sophisticated representation of the physics governing water and sediment movement, with innovative Reduced-Complexity models capable of simulating how these processes interact to determine channel evolution and deposit sedimentology over periods of centuries to millennia. The result of this work will be the World's first comprehensive database on how the morphology of a large river changes through time, obtained concurrently with data on what drives those changes and what this means for the formation of sedimentary deposits.