Field Scale River Delta Kinematics


Bathymetry of Wax Lake Delta collected in August 2011

The striking variation in delta morphology observed on coastlines is the result of sedimentary processes that are active at the delta front; the region directly seaward of the shoreline. Aerial images do not capture the 3-Dimensional bathymetry of this region, and it remains largely unexplored. My work measures bathymetry, flow patterns, and sediment transport over the delta front to improve our understanding of distributary channel growth and the land building potential of river deltas.

Related Publications

Konkol, A., Schwenk, J., Katifori, E., & Shaw, J. B. (2022). Interplay of river and tidal forcings promotes loops in coastal channel networks. Geophysical Research Letters, 49(10), e2022GL098284.




Shaw, J. B., Mason, K. G., Ma, H., & McCain, G. W. (2021). Influences on Discharge Partitioning on a Large River Delta: Case Study of the Mississippi-Atchafalaya Diversion, 1926-1950. Water Resources Research, e2020WR028090.



Sanks, K. M., Shaw, J. B., & Naithani, K. (2020). Field-based Estimate of the Sediment Deficit in Coastal Louisiana. Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, e2019JF005389.


Editor’s Highlight:

Shaw, J. B., D. Mohrig, and R. W. Wagner (2016), Flow patterns and morphology of a prograding river delta, J. Geophys. Res. Earth Surf., 2015JF003570, doi:10.1002/2015JF003570.

Shaw, J.B., D. Mohrig, (2014), The importance of erosion in distributary channel network growth, Wax Lake Delta, Louisiana, USA, Geology, 42, 31-34, doi: 10.1130/G34751.1

Shaw, J. B., D. Mohrig, and S. K. Whitman (2013), The Morphology and Evolution of Channels on the Wax Lake Delta, J. Geophys. Res., 118, 1–22, doi:10.1002/jgrf.20123.

Edmonds, D. A., J. B. Shaw, and D. Mohrig (2011), Topset-dominated deltas: A new model for river delta stratigraphy, Geology, 39(12), 1175–1178, doi:10.1130/G32358.1.

Experimental River Delta Mechanics


Snapshot from a delta experiment. The channels are ~1 cm wide and 6 cm long. Flow is from left to right.

To test hypotheses regarding river delta dynamics, I create physical experiments in the laboratory. I am running a set of experiments at the University of Wyoming to test the importance of low water surface slopes to channel evolution on large river deltas. The photograph to the right shows distributary channels in an experimental delta.

Sanks, K. M., Zapp, S. M., Silvestre, J. R., Shaw, J. B., Dutt, R., & Straub, K. M. (2022). Marsh Sedimentation Controls Delta Top Morphology, Slope, and Mass Balance. Geophysical Research Letters, 49(12), e2022GL098513.

Preprint at 10.1002/essoar.10510385.1


Shaw, J. B., Miller, K. and McElroy, B. (2018). Island Formation Resulting from Radially Symmetric Flow Expansion, J. Geophys. Res. Earth Surf., 2017JF004464, doi:10.1002/2017JF004464.

Rivers in Engineered Environments

Reconaissance trip to Arkansas River near Pendleton, AR, in 2020.

Modern rivers serve many purposes and have many stakeholders. As an example, the Arkansas River is an important water resource, sediment transport pathway, source of raw materials, and low emission transport pathway for barges. Many questions remain about how such multivalent systems function, and how they will change with a changing climate and society. Our focus is on how river engineering and barge traffic influence sediment transport in the Arkansas and other rivers.

Chen, H., Shaw, J. B., Sharman, G. R., & Marshall, J. A. (2022). Significant Human Modification of the Lower Arkansas River Sediment Budget. Geophysical Research Letters, 49(18), e2022GL099441.


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