Fluvial Morphometry

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Fluvial Morphometry

Graded river

In order to facilitate comparisons between basins, a hierarchy of stream orders is used. This was originally proposed by Horton, but the amended systems of Shreve or Strahler are the ones generally in use. Streams without tributaries at the head of river systems are designated first-order streams. Two first-order streams join to form a second-order stream; two second-order streams join to make a third-order stream; and so on. If a lower-order unites with a higher-order stream, the order of the latter remains unchanged, i.e. it takes at least two streams of a given order to form a stream of the next higher order. The main stream is always the highest order in the basin, and the basin order is named from this.

The examination of a large number of systems has shown that if we count the number of streams in each order, then that number decreases with increasing order in a regular manner. This is known as the law of stream numbers. The stream order is related to stream numbers on a semi-logarithmic scale, and a straight-line plot emerges.

Similar straight-line plots can be obtained if stream order is plotted against the area drained by each order (law of sream lengths) and if stream order is plotted against the total stream lengths per order (law of basin areas). The bifurcation ratio is used to express the number of streams in a given order to the number of streams in the next order. Most streams have bifurcation ratios between 3 and 5.

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