The sedimentology of an ephemeral fluvial–aeolian succession

Charlotte L. Priddy*, Stuart M. Clarke

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Ephemeral fluvial systems are commonly associated with arid to semi-arid climates. Although their complex sedimentology and depositional settings have been described in much detail, depositional models depicting detailed lateral and vertical relationships, and interactions with coeval depositional environments, are lacking compared to well-recognized meandering and braided fluvial systems. This study critically evaluates the applicability of current models for ephemeral fluvial systems to an ancient arid fluvial example of the Lower Jurassic Kayenta Formation of the Colorado Plateau, USA. The study employs detailed sedimentary logging, palaeocurrent analysis and photogrammetric panels across the regional extent of the Kayenta. A generic model that accounts for the detailed sedimentology of a sandy arid ephemeral fluvial system (drawing upon both ancient and geomorphological studies) is developed, along with analysis of the spatial and temporal interactions with the aeolian setting. Results show that the ephemeral system is dominated by laterally and vertically amalgamated, poorly channelized to sheet-like elements, with abundant upper flow regime flat beds and high sediment load structures formed between periods of lower flow regime conditions. Through interaction with a coeval aeolian system, most of the fluvial deposits are dominated by sand-grade sediment, unlike many modern ephemeral fluvial systems that contain a high proportion of conglomeratic and/or finer grained mudstone and siltstone deposits. During dominantly fluvial deposition, high width to thickness ratios are observed for channelized and sheet-like elements. However, with increasing aridity, the aeolian environment becomes dominant and fluvial deposition is restricted to interdune corridors, resulting in lower width to thickness ratio channels dominated by flash-flood and debris-flow facies. The data presented here, coupled with modern examples of ephemeral systems and flood regimes, suggest that ephemeral flow produces and preserves distinctive sedimentological traits that can not only be recognized in outcrops, but also within core.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2392-2425
Number of pages30
Issue number5
Early online date25 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

Research Funding
Natural Environment Research Council. Grant Number: NEM00578X/1
British Geological Survey

Data Availability Statement

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


  • Aeolian
  • depositional methods
  • ephemeral fluvial
  • flash-flood
  • fluvial architecture
  • Kayenta Formation


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