Sediment slugs: large-scale fluctuations in fluvial sediment transport rates and storage volumes

A.P. Nicholas, Philip Ashworth, M.J. Kirkby, M.G. Macklin, T. Murray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Variations in fluvial sediment transport rates and storage volumes have been described previously as sediment waves or pulses. These features have been identified over a wide range of temporal and spatial scales and have been categorized using existing bedform classifications. Here we describe the factors controlling the generation and propagation of what we term sediment slugs. These can be defined as bodies of clastic material associated with disequilibrium conditions in fluvial systems over time periods above the event scale. Slugs range in magnitude from unit bars (Smith, 1974) up to sedimentary features generated by basin-scale sediment supply disturbances (Trimble, 1981). At lower slug magnitudes, perturbations in sediment transport are generated by local riverbank and/or bed erosion. Larger-scale features result from the occurrence of rare high- magnitude geomorphic events, and the impacts on water and sediment production of tectonics, glaciation, climate change and anthropogenic influences. Simple sediment routing functions are presented which may be used to describe the propagation of sediment slugs in fluvial systems. Attention is drawn to components of the fluvial system where future research is urgently required to improve our quantitative understanding of drainage-basin sediment dynamics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)500-519
Number of pages20
JournalProgress in Physical Geography
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 1995


  • sediment slugs
  • sediment transport
  • disequilibrium
  • drainage basin


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