Journal of Fluid Mechanics

Inception of channelization and drainage basin formation: upstream-driven theory

Norihiro  Izumi a1 and Gary  Parker a2
a1 Department of Civil Engineering, Tokyo Institute of Technology, 12-1 O-okayama 2 chome, Meguro, Tokyo 152, Japan
a2 St Anthony Falls Hydraulic Laboratory, Department of Civil and Mineral Engineering, University of Minnesota, Mississippi River at 3rd Avenue SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414, USA

Article author query
izumi n   [Google Scholar] 
parker g   [Google Scholar] 


The ubiquitous presence of river drainage basins in the terrestrial environment suggests that distributed overland flow generated by rainfall tends to spontaneously organize itself into dendritic systems of discrete channels. Several recent numerical models describe the evolution of complete drainage basins from the initial condition of rainfall on a flat, tilted plateau, the surface of which has been provided with random elevation perturbations. These analyses model overland flow via the assumption of a perfect balance between gravitational and frictional terms, i.e. in terms of normal flow.

Linear stability analysis applied to the normal flow model has been shown, however, to fail to select a wavelength corresponding to a finite distance of separation between incipient basins. This suggests that the normal flow model may not be a sufficient basis for studying drainage basin development, especially at the finest scales of morphologic significance.

Here the concept of a threshold condition for bed erosion is combined with an analysis of the full equations of shallow overland flow in order to study wavelength selection. Classical linear stability analysis is shown to be inadequate to analyse the problem at the level of inception. An alternative linear analysis of bed perturbations based on the threshold condition is developed, and shown to lead to the selection of finite wavelength of the correct order of magnitude.

The analysis here is driven from the upstream direction in that bed erosion is first caused only when sufficient flow has gathered from upstream due to rainfall. A downstream-driven theory of incipient channelization that is not necessarily dependent upon rainfall is presented in Izumi (1993), and is presently in preparation for publication.

(Published Online April 26 2006)
(Received December 20 1993)
(Revised August 6 1994)

Related Content