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THE

AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF PETROLEUM GEOLOGISTS BULLETIN


V. 5 1 . N O . 11 ( N O V E M B E R , 19671. P. "246-2259. 4 F I G S , , ' TABLE

D R A I N A G E ANALYSIS I N GEOLOGIC I N T E R P R E T A T I O N

A SUMMATION'

ARTHUR DAVID HOWARD^


Stanford, California 94,^0^
.\BSTR.ArT
Drainage analysis is useful in structural interpretation, particularly in areas of low relief.
Analysis includes consideration of drainage patterns, drainage texture, individual stream patterns,
and drainage anomalies.
Drainage patterns generally are subdivided into basic and modified basic. To these might be
added pattern varieties. A basic pattern is one whose gross characteristics readily distinguish it from
other basic patterns. Modified basic patterns differ from the type patterns in some fairly obvious
regional aspect as, for example, a tendency toward parallelism of the larger tributaries in a dendritic
pattern. Thus many modified patterns are transitional in character between basic patterns, and the
naming of such patterns may be a matter of judgment. Pattern varieties are characterized by internal
details, commonly obscure. In a broad sense, the basic patterns, the modified basic patterns, and the
pattern varieties are analogous to the genera, species, and varieties of the zoological classification.
A complex pattern consists of two contemporaneous patterns adjacent to each other; a compound
pattern consists of two unlike superimposed patterns. The palimpsest pattern consists of two super
imposed patterns, but one is a paleopattern.
Drainage texture depends on a variety of factors. In any one small area where all other factors
are constant, drainage texture may firovide information on underlying materials and indirectly on
structure.
Individual stream patterns may display characteristics similai- to lho.se of the gross drainage
pattern and may be referred to by the same name. Thus individual patterns may be referred to by
such terms as rectangular, angulate, or contorted. Other stream patterns include irregular, rectilinear,
meandering, braided, misfit, and beaded.
Drainage anomalies are local deviations from drainage and stream patterns which elsewhere
accord with the known regional geology and/or topography. The expectable pattern is regarded as the
norm; the anomalies indicate departures from the regional geologic or topographic controls. Analysis
of drainage anomalies has revealed structural data in some ilalland reciions WIKTI' other methods of
investigation have been unsatisfactory.
INTRODUCTION

DR.\I\,\GK

Drainage analysis is an important tool in photogeologic interpretation, particularly in area? of


low relief. It m a y provide clues to inactive structural features exposed at the surface, to structural features currently rising, and, possibly, to buried structural features. T h e density of drainage
may provide information on permeability and
texture of materials, and may infer the identity
of materials. T h e characteristics and significance
of drainage patterns, drainage texture, individual
stream patterns, and drainage anomalies are considered here.
Techniques involving grid sampling and the use
of digital computers eventually may result in the
applicati(m of numerical values to drainage patterns (Merriam and Sneath 1966). I t is too
early, however, to speculate on the advantages
and disadvantages of this procedure.
^ Manuscript received, June 25, 1966; accepted, February i, 1967.
"Geology Department, Stanford University, The
writer is indebted to Chester R. Longwell and Stanley
N, Davis for review of the manuscript, but only he is
responsible for its content.

l'..\TTERNS

A drainat^e pattrni i< ;hc design formed by the


aggregate of drainaiieways in an area regardless
of whether they ,.irc o, cupied by permanent
streams. A strniDi pii/lcn: is the design formed
by a single drainageway
Both basic and iiKiditied basic drainage patterns have been des.ribed (Zernitz, 1932). In addition to these there are drainage varieties. A
basic pattern is oiii' whose gross characteristics
readily distinguish it from other basic patterns. A
modified basic pattern iliffer- from the type basic
pattern in some regional aspect as, for example,
the close spacing o: small piirallel tributaries in
the pinnale-dendriti' ii.ilirii or the preferred orientation of long-er iriliularics in the directionaltrellis pattern i Fis. .?. 1! :uiii G ) . Drainage varieties differ from the liasii and modified basic patterns in internal details. \'arieties are legion and
the application of individual names is impractical.
In a broad sense, the basii patterns, the modified
basic patterns, and the pattern varieties m a y be
likened to the genern, sfii ries and varieties of the
zoological rlassificat ion

2246

DRAINAGE ANALYSIS IN GEOLOGIC INTERPRETATION


BASIC PATTERNS

Most of the basic patterns are controlled by


regional structure. Zernitz (1932) classified as
major (basic?) the following patterns: dendritic,
parallel, trellis, rectangular, radial, and annular.
Because these are discussed in most elementary
geology texts, only a pictorial review (Fig. 1,
A-F) and a brief summation of characteristics
and geologic significance (Table I) are included.
Two other patterns, multibasinal and contorted,
are grouped with the basic patterns in this report
(Fig. 1, G and H; Table I). The original or earnest known references to most of the basic and
modified basic patterns are recorded in the footnotes to Table I.
MODIFIED BASIC PATTERNS

Modified basic patterns, although usually recognized as belonging to one of the basic types,
differ in certain regional characteristics. For example, the degree of parallelism of the main
streams in a region of dendritic drainage is generally a function of the regional slope. On different
declivities, therefore, there may be all transitions
from dendritic to parallel drainage. Transitional
types also may result from changes with time.
The change toward parallelism might result from
progressive steepening of a slope. Trellis characteristics may appear in a dendritic pattern as
streams are superposed from an overlying cover
onto dipping rocks. Transitions among all the
basic types seem possible. Some of the modified
patterns are considered below.
Dendritic Pattern Modifications
Subdendritic.This pattern differs from the
type dendritic only in the lack of perfection.
Deviations are presumably due to secondary regional controls, either structural or topographic.
Thus, in part of the Amazon basin recently
studied by the writer (Howard 196S), the dendritic pattern, inherited from an unconformable
mantle, is being transformed to a trellis pattern
by adjustment of tributaries to the strike of
underlying formations. Along the lower Yellowstone River in eastern Montana, the dendritic
drainage is slowly developing trellis characteristics under the influence of a prevailing system
of poorly expressed joints (Fig. 2, A).
Pinnate.This pattern is characterized by
many closely spaced, more-or-less parallel tribu-

2247

taries entering the larger streams at an acute


angle. The drainage, therefore, has a featherlike
or frondlike appearance (Fig. 2, B). The pattern
is best developed in fine-textured, easily eroded
materials such as loess. The fine texture of the
materials accounts for the close spacing of the
small tributaries, and the steep valley sides are
the cause of their parallelism. On some slopes,
particularly solifluction slopes in the Arctic, the
closely spaced parallel tributaries are long compared with those in Figure 2. They are barely incised into the gentle slopes and extend to the
crests of the rounded divides. The pattern resembles feathery plumes.
Anastomotic.This pattern, characterized by a
network of interlocking channels, sloughs, bayous,
and oxbow lakes, is found on floodplains and deltas and in tidal marshes (Fig. 2, C). Varieties of
the pattern have been termed "reticular" by Parvis (1950, p. 43-44) and "reticulate" by Whitehouse (1944, p. 9).
Distributary.This is the branching pattern
found on alluvial fans and deltas (Fig. 2, D). It
resembles the dendritic pattern except that the
tributaries diverge from, rather than converge toward, the main stream.
Parallel Pattern Modifications
Subparallel.The subparallel pattern (Zernitz,
1932, p. 518) shows less parallelism than the
basic pattern. If due to slope alone, the pattern
resembles that formed by the branches of a poplar tree. Where due to mild structural control by
deformed strata of relatively uniform resistance
to erosion, there is sufficient parallelism among
segments of the main streams and tributaries to
suggest the bedrock control, but streams commonly diverge from the geologic grain. The elongate streams are not ordinarily as continuous
along the strike as those of the trellis pattern.
These differences from the trellis pattern also
apply to the subparallel pattern of drumlin areas
(Fig. 2, E).
Colinear.This pattern (Zernitz, 1932, p. 519)
is characterized by remarkably straight parallel
streams or channels which alternately disappear
and reappear (Fig. 2, F). The pattern is found
in areas of linear loess and sand ridges.
Trellis Pattern Modifications
Subtrellis.The subtrellis pattern differs from
the type trellis only in the degree of continuity

2248

ARTHUR DAVID HOWARD

FIG. 1.Basic drainage patterns. Each pattern occurs in a wide range of scales. Examples shown may be
regarded as types. Dendritic pattern resembles spreading branches of oak or cheslnul tree with tributaries
entering at wide angles. In trellis pattern, small tributaries to long parallel subsequent streams are about
same length on both sides of subsequent streams.

DRAINA(}E ANALYSIS I N GEOLOGIC I N T E R P R E T A T I O N

2249

TABLE I. SIGMFICANXE OF BASIC AND MODIPIED BASIC DRAINAGE PATTERNS


Basic

Significance

Modified

Horizontal sediments or beveled, uniformly resistant, crystalline rocks.


Gentle regional slo]>e at present or at
time of drainage inception. Type pattern resembles spreading oak or chestnut tree.

Subdendritic

Minor secondary control, generally


structural.

Pinnate^

Fine-textured, easily erodable materials.

Anastomotic^^

Floodplains,
marshes.

Basic

Distributary
(Dichotomic )i^
Parallel^

Trellis^

Generally indicates moderate to steep


slopes but also found in areas of parallel, elongate landforms. All transitions
possible between this pattern and
type dendritic and trelHs.
Dipping or folded sedimentary, volcanic, or low-grade metasedimentary
rocks; areas of parallel fractures; exposed lake or sea floors ribbed b v
beach ridges. All transitions to parallel pattern. Type pattern is regarded
here as one in which small tributaries
are essentially same size on opposite
sides of long parallel subsequent
streams.

Added Significance or Locale

deltas,

and

tidal

Alluvial fans and deltas.

Subparallel^^

Intermediate slopes or control by


subparallel landforms.

Colineari^

Between linea: loess and sand


ridges.

Subtrellis

Parallel elongate landforms.

Directional Trellis

Gentle homocUnes. Gentle slopes


with beach ridges.
Plunging folds.

Recurved Trellis
Fault Trellis"

Branching, converging, diverging,


roughly parallel faults.

Joint Trellis

Straight
joints.

parallel

faults

and/or

Rectangular^

Joints a n d / o r faults at right angles.


Lacks orderly repetitive quality of
trellis pattern; streams and divides
lack regional continuity.

Angulateis

Joints and/or faults at other than


right angles* A compound rectangular-angulate pattern is common.

Radials

Volcanoes, domes, and erosion residuals. A complex of radial patterns in a


volcanic field might be called multiradial.

Centripetal IS

Craters, calderas, and other depressions. A complex of centripetal


patterns in area of multiple depressions might be called multicentripetal.

Annular^

Structural domes and basins, diatremes, and possibly stocks.

Multibasinal'

Hummocky surficial deposits; differentiaDy scoured or deflated bedrock;


areas of recent volcanism, limestone
solution, and permafrost. This descriptive term is suggested for all
multiple-depression patterns whose
exact origins are unknown.

Con tor ted 8

Contorted, coarsely layered metamorphic rocks. Dikes, veins, and migmatized bands provide the resistant
layers in some areas. Pattern differs
from recurved trellis (Fig. 2, H) in
lack of regional orderliness, discontinuity of ridges and valleys, and generally smaller scale.

Longer tributaries to annular subsequent streams generally indicate


direction of dip and permit distinction between dome and basin.
Glacially Disturbed

Glacial erosion a n d / o r deposition.

Karst

Limestone.

Thermokarst^^

Permafrost.

Elongate Bay^s

Coastal plains and deltas.


T h e longer tributaries to curved
subsequent streams generally indicate dip of metamorphic layers and
permit distinction between plunging
anticlines and syncHnes.

1 Described by D u t t o n (1882, p. 6, 62, 63) and applied as a drainage term at least as early as 1898 (Russell, p. 204). Classified as a basic
pattern by Zernitz (1932, p. 499).
^Zernitz (1932, p . 510).
3 Willis (1895, p. 186).
* First used in modern sense by Zernitz (1932, p . 503), but the pattern was recognized much earlier (Daubree, 1879, p . 357-375; Kemj),
1894, p . 438-440; Hobbs, 1904, pi. 47).
6 Radial drainage is described and illustrated in Jaggar (1901, p . 174, pi. X V I I I ) and is referred to by Dake and Brown (1925, p . 134).
6 Jaggar (1901, p. 277) refers to anniJar draniage, but Zernitz (1932, p. 507) may have been the first to apply the name to the drainage
pattern.
^ The descriptive term "multibasinal" is used here as a substitute for genetic terms such as "kettlehole" and "sinkhole" which have
been applied to patterns characterized by numerous depressions. T h e term "poly basin" (Parvis, 1950, p . 57) would have been appropriate
had it not been restricted to the area of the Ogallala Formation in the Great Plains and specifically related to the presence of an impervious
substratum.
8 Von Engeln (1942, p . 113, 336).
s Zernitz (1932, p . 512).
^'^ Described as a pattern by Zernitz (1932, p. 514). T h e descriptive adjective "anastomosing," however, had been used long prior to 1932.
Johnson (1932, p . 497) restricted the term "braided" to the interlacings of an individual stream.
^1 Parvis (1950, p . 41) attributed the term "dichotomic" to Finch and Trewartha (1942). The writer was unable to locate the term in the
1942 reference or in the first edition of their Elements of Geography, b u t m a y have overlooked it. Distributaries are mentioned on pages
307, 342, and 355 of the 1st ed., 1936, and on pages 290, 326, and 340 of the 2d ed., 1942.
^2 Zernitz (1932, p . 5181.
13 Zernitz (1932, p . 519).
1* Dake and Brown (1925, p . 191).
15 Zernitz (1932, p . 517).
16 Davis (1889. p. 249),
1" Muller (1943), p . SO.
18 Parvis (1950), p. 43.

2250

ARTHUR DAVID HOWARD

FIG. 2.^Modified basic patterns. Each pattern occurs in u v\ifle ran^e <if scales.
and parallelism of the dominant drainage. The
distinction between subtrellis and subparallel is
commonly a matter of judgment.

Directional trellis.This term is suggested for


a modification of the irellis pattern in which the
tributaries to the long subsequent streams are

D R A I N A G E ANALYSIS I N G E O L O G I C
consistently longer on one side of the valley than
on the other (Fig. 2, G ) . T h e pattern most commonly is found in areas of gently dipping homoclinal beds, but also occurs on gentle slopes with
parallel beach ridges.
Recurved trellis.This is a modification of the
trellis pattern in which the pattern as a whole
forms sweeping curves around the noses of plunging folds (Fig. 2, H ) . It is more orderly and systematic, and generally larger in scale, than the
contorted pattern in metamorphic terrain. Comparison of the lengths of small tributaries on opposite sides of the curved subsequent <lreams,
particularly at the noses of the folds, commonly
permits distinction between plunging anticlines
and synclines; the direction of flow of the longer
tributaries generally indicates the direction of
dip.
Fault trellis.This pattern has been attributed
by Dake and Brown (I92S, p. 191) to "alternating grabens and horsts or a succession of parallel
rifts." It is described as less closely spaced than
the trellis pattern on tilted or folded strata, with
a tendency toward dendritic drainage between the
faults. Right-angle turns are also less common. In
the San Mateo quadrangle, just south of San
Francisco,
California,
the
fault-controlled
streams, although grossly parallel, locally diverge,
converge, and branch, and the broader inierstream segments show dendritic, radial, or other
drainage patterns (Fig. 3, A ) .
Joint trellis.A second fracture trellis pattern,
characterized by short, remarkably straight parallel streams, m a y be referred to as joint trellis,
although the fractures may include faults. A good
example is found in the Zion Park region of Utah
(Fig. 3 , B ) .
Both of the fracture trellis patterns differ from
the rectangular pattern in having one dominant
set of parallel streams.
Rectangular Pattern Modifications
Angulate.This
pattern (Zernitz, 1932, p. 517)
is
characterized
by
numerous
acute-angle
bends and barbed tributaries. It is generally
found in areas where an additional set (or sets)
of fractures is superimposed on a rectangular set.
There may be two superimposed rectangular systems of different orientation. Figure 3C is a
generalized portrayal of the drainage of part of
the Yellowstone plateau. T h e drainage alignments

INTERI'Kl/rA'nON

22>\

clearly indicate one rectangular system with elements oriented approximately north-south and
east-west, and another system oriented northeastsouthwest and northwest-southeast.
A remarkable cxanipU- of joint control is present in French Cuiana, where several sets of more
or less equally s|)acid joints impart a geometric
pattern to both the drainage and topography. The
pattern has been referred to as "honeycomb" by
Zonneveld el al
\')^!. ]), I S3). Another geometric pattern, on a much jmaller scale, is found in
permafrost areas where in.- wedges thaw around
the margins of soil polygons. This pattern is best
described as polyconal
Radial

Pattern

.Modifications

Centripetal.This
pattern (Davis, 1889, p.
249) is a modification of the radial pattern in
which the streams flow inward toward a closed or
nearly closed central dejircssion (Fig. 3, D ) . The
pattern commonK' i> .issoi iated with caters, calderas, and a wide \'arirty nf depressions. In some
areas, suth as the jian belt'' of the Union of
South Africa (King, \'i?\. p. 91 ), there is a complex of centripetal pat I e m s T h e regional pattern
might be icferir'il m ;L^
multicentripetal.
Multibasinal Pattern Modifications
T h e multibasinal pattern occurs principally in
areas of glacial erosion and deposition, eolian erosion and deposition, solution, and permafrost. It
also is found, however, in regions of recent volcanic activity and in landslide areas. There are
many modifications of the pattern, even within
individual regions. Thus in glaciated areas, the
majority of the depressions may be small or
large, closely spaced oi widely scattered, and the
drainage may display \arii.-d amounts of integration. In sandy areas, the depressions may display
great diversity in shajic MIKI size in accordance
with the characteristics of ihe dunes within which
they occur, and ina\' aUo display a certain
amount of integrated drainage. The pattern may
then closely resemble the drainage pattern in morainal area.s.
In volcanic areas, the depressions may include
craters and
caldera>, lava-dammed
valleys,
interflow basins, or collapsed lava caves or tunnels. In many lava fields, depressions large
enough to be shown on topographic maps are less
profuse than in morainal or sand areas.

2252

A R T H U R DAVID HOWARD

FIG. ,?.Modified basic patterns (A-D); complex, compound, and |)alini|)sesl patternj (E-H).
Each pattern oi-curs in a wide range of scales.

DRAINAGE ANALYSIS IN GEOLOGIC INTERPRETATION


In landslide areas, depressions are found either
behind rotated slump blocks, within chaotically
jumbled landslide debris, or where drainage has
been blocked. This multibasinal pattern is usually
of small regional extent.
The multibasinal pattern i.s rarely diagnostic in
itself of either process or material; patterns
formed by different processes may be remarkably
alike. A pitted outwash area in Minnesota illustrated by Cooper (r93S, Fig. 4, p. 10) is remarkably similar to the solution-pan landscape of parts
of Florida. Multibasinal patterns in areas of
moraine, sand dunes, limestone, recent lava flows,
landslides, and permafrost may resemble each
other at least superficially. Conclusions reached
as to process or type of materials based on pattern alone could be in error. Nevertheless, several
genetic terms have been suggested for varieties of
the multibasinal pattern: glacially disturbed, deranged, kettle hole, swallow hole, karst, and
others. If there is doubt as to genesis, the pattern
is best referred to simply as multibasinal. If, on
the other hand, the pattern includes features that
leave no doubt as to process or material, there
may be justification for using one of the established genetic terms. Thus, a multibasinal pattern
with (f) depressions ranging from tiny steepsided pits, many of which are circular, to large,
deep, irregular valley-1'ke basins, (2) some depressions ahgned rectinearly, and (3) scattered
disappearing and/or reappearing streams, may
perhaps be referred to as a swallow-hole or karst
pattern. Or, a multibasinal pattern associated
with evidence of thawing permafrost, such as polygonal ground and beaded drainage, might be referred to as fhermokarst (Muller, 1943, p. SO).
Parvis (1950, p. 43) suggested the name "elongate bay" for a multibasinal pattern in which the
depressions are large, elliptical, and parallel. The
pattern is found in some coastal-plain and delta
areas and has been variously attributed to meteorite impact, solution, segmentation of lagoons at
higher stands of the sea, and to thaw of formerly
frozen ground. The value of the purely descriptive term "elongate bay" for this pattern is obvious.
COMPLEX, COMPOUND, AND PALIMPSEST PATTERNS

Zernitz (1932, p. 521) proposed the term


"complex" for an aggregate of dissimilar patterns
reflecting different structural controls in adjoin-

2253

ing areas. Parvis (f9S0, p. 43) suggested the


term "anomalous" for complex patterns found in
areas of differing topography and materials. The
terms "complex" and "anomalous" have thus
been applied to situations that are in part similar
and in part dissimilar. Inasmuch as the term
"complex" has priority, it should be retained but
perhaps with its scope enlarged to include all patterns representing an aggregate of adjoining dissimilar patterns due to structure, materials, and/
or differences in topography. In Figure 3, E, the
contrasted patterns are due to differences in
structural features. An example of drainage
differences caused by differences in topography
on identical materials is the multibasinal drainage
of moraine versus the subparallel drainage of
drumlin topography.
The term "compound" was applied by D. W.
Johnson (personal commun., 1931) to drainage
consisting of two or more contemporaneous patterns in the same area, as, for example, the combination of radial and annular patterns characteristic of many domes (Fig. 3, F). Dendritic and
multibasinal patterns commonly are combined in
areas where streams have cut youthful valleys
into a relatively insoluble formation below a solution-pitted limestone formation. The depressions
are restricted to the limestone-capped divides between the streams. A somewhat similar combination of patterns results from partial integration
of drainage in morainal areas.
The writer encountered an interesting drainage
pattern which he has called palimpsest (Howard,
1962, p. 2255). In the palimpsest pattern, an
older, abandoned drainage or stream pattern
forms the background for the present pattern.
The example (Fig. 3, G) is in the western coastal
plain of Taiwan. At the site of the anomaly, the
present drainage pattern is radial. Faintly visible
through the rice paddies is a meandering channel
whose presence is indicated primarily by the
somewhat smaller size of the paddies within its
confines. The meandering channel crosses the
present low topographic bulge toward its crest.
Clearly, the topographic high was not present
when the meandering stream crossed the area.
The meandering stream apparently was deflected
by the growing arch on which the present radial
drainage came into existence. The situation suggests either active deformation within the coastal
plain, not an unlikely possibility considering the

ARTHUR DAVID HOWARD

2254

instability of the island of Taiwan as a whole, or


differential settling over a buried topographic
high, or both. Any drainage pattern that includes
traces of an older, unlike pattern may be referred to as palimpsest. Remnants of original
stream courses are common in many areas of glacial and eolian activity, multiple piracy, and recent warping and faulting. Figure 3H illustrates
in generalized fashion the relation of the Missouri River (or the Ohio River) to aliandoned
preglacial valleys.

deflection of .-streams around bodies of relatively


unfractured or otherwise resistant rock.
Comparable varielie> a r t found in each of the
other basic and modified basic patterns. A detailed treatment ol ihe>c i.^ beyond the scope of
this report. T h e irnportani point is ihal careful
study of local departure^ from the regional palterns may reveal unsuspected information of considerable value. The anal>'sis of drainage varieties
and of the related draiiuige anomalies discussed
below presenis w. iiniiiuc challenge to the geologist .

PATTERN VARIETIES

Pattern varieties differ from basic and modified basic patterns in internal details. They commonly provide useful geologic information.
Regional differences, such as contrasts in density of drainage, do not distinguish varieties. I t is
expectable that a dendritic pattern in shale will
be finer than that in sandstone, and that a Irellis
pattern in slate will be finer than thai in interbedded sedimentary strata. Any drainage pattern may be fine, medium, or coarse textured.
Intrapattern differences in texture, however, do
distinguish varieties. Thus, a dendritic pattern in
an area in which thick, horizontal beds of sandstone and shale are exposed in the slopes may
display a coarse texture in the sandstone and a
finer texture in the shale. The pattern is 'le.xturally zoned."
In another variety of the dendritic pattern,
many streams consistently are closer to one side
of their valleys than the other. In the Leavenworth Cjuadrangle (Kansas-Missouri), streams
that flow generally east or west hug the steeper
south (north-facing) slopes. The dendritic pattern
suggests essentially horizontal sedimentary rocks
or beveled, uniformly resistant crystalline rocks,
but the valley a.symmetry suggests an additional
influence such as a gentle southward dip, active
tilting, or differences in degree of erosion of the
valley slopes due to direction of exposure. T h a t
the asymmetry is not due to stream (leilecti(m
resulting from terrestrial rotation is evident from
the fact that the steep slope is on the left side of
some streams and on the right side of others.
Another variety of the dendritic pattern, characteristic of granitic areas, displays numerous sicklelike curves. These apparently are the result of
' The term right and left apply when facing downcurrent.

DRAI.\A(,E T E X T U R E

Drainage texture refer-, lo the relative spacing


of drainage lines regardless of occupancy by
perennial streams. The u-inis "fine," "medium,"
and "coarse" generall\ arc used in a relative
sense to indie ati' ihe .-paung. A fine texture is
one in which there i> a high degree of
ramification of drainage lines resulting in a dense
network involving myiiad small streams. Fine
texture is typical ol i lay, -.hale, silt, and other
relatively impervious materials. A coarse texture,
in contrast, exhibits \ e r \ little ramification, and
longer, more widel\- .^e])arated valleys prevail.
Coarse texture i.-> typical of permeable materials
such as sand, gravt'l. and rocks that weather into
coarse fragment^. Medium texture is intermediate between the two extremes.
The use of these te.Mural terms without
clarification is inadvisal)le. not only because they
mean different things to different people, but because texture varies vviih -cale. Attempts have
been made lo exj)re^^ textures cjuantitatively on
the basis of the numbei i >l ream frequency) and
total length (drainage den-iiy) of drainage lines
per unit area ( H o n o n . 'U^', Smith, 1950), However, quantitati\e ilelerniiiiations of texture involve laborious, time-consuming procedures, and
the resulting degree- ef refinement are greater
than necessary for many geologic problems, A
satisfactory ])ro( edure :'()r leports is to prepare
diagrams showing the drainage textures, at the
scale of the maps or photos, that are regarded as
fine, medium, and loai.-e atid perhaps as ultrafine
and ultracoarse.
Drainage texture is influenced by (1) climatically controlled factors ^Ul:ll as amount and distribution of i^recipitation, \-egetafion, and permafrost; (2) rock characteristics, including te,x-

DRAINAGE ANALYSIS IN GEOLOGIC INTERPRETATION


ture and size of fragments released by weathering; (3) infiltration capacity; (4) topography;
and (S) stage and number of erosion cycles. In
any one small area of study, the climatic factors,
the topography, and the stage and number of erosion cycles may be reasonably constant, so that
the variations in te.xture will reflect differences in
rock characteristics and infiltration capacity.
In unconsolidated sediments, the drainage texture is related directly to grain size. On similar
declivities, small rills can easily move particles of
clay and silt and develop myriad small channels,
whereas larger streams, that is, the accumulations
from larger watersheds, are required to move sand
and gravel. Hence the channels are more widely
spaced. As Schumm reported (1956, p. 607), a
certain minimum drainage area is required to
maintain a stream channel in an area of uniform
lithology and simple structure. He expressed this
quantitatively as a constant of channel maintenance, which is actually an expression of texture.
The reader is referred to Schumm's paper for
further discussion of this relationship.
In areas of hard rock, the size of the fragments provided for transport is the decisive factor. The removal of large blocks ordinarily requires larger streams than does the removal of
small fragments, if there are no strong contrasts
in stream gradients. Texture of drainage in granite areas, for example, may range from fine in
closely fractured zones to coarse where the fractures are more widely spaced. On very gentle
slopes in humid climates, deep weathering may
result in a fine-textured soil regardless of the rock
type below. The fine-textured debris, however,
generally influences the texture only of that part
of the drainage system that has not eroded
through the surficial mantle.
Infiltration capacity, the rate at which water
soaks into the ground, depends to a large degree
on permeability. Deposits of sand and gravel, as
well as permeable rocks including those in which
the permeability is the result of fractures, readily
absorb precipitation. Therefore, they have few
surface streams and display a coarse drainage
texture. The pattern may be finer on steep slopes,
however, where velocity of flow results in reduced infiltration and greater surface runoff.
Clay, with a low infiltration capacity, has a large
surface runoff and a dense network of surface
drainage.

2255

Vegetation, with its absorbent root mat and


underlying soil, retards runoff and reduces
development of rills. Thus, the texture of drainage in humid climates is generally coarser than in
arid climates, and the texture is coarser on heavily vegetated slopes than on barren slopes.
Some gravel deposits display a medium or even
fine texture of drainage. Such gravels may have a
high content of "fines"materially reducing the
permeabilityor may be exposed on steep slopes,
such as terrace scarps or steep dip slopes where
the velocity of flow is rapid enough to insure
considerable runoff.
Drainage texture may vary within the confines
of a single drainage pattern depending on the nature of the rocks exposed. Theoretically, the
cross-country trend of the boundary between textural zones should assist in correlation of rock
units from one drainage basin to another.
STREAM PATTERNS

The names apphed to stream patterns are selfexplanatory, and most of the patterns are so well
known that further explanation is not required.
However, a few comments seem pertinent.
Some individual stream patterns show the
characteristics of the overall drainage pattern and
are referred to by the same names (Johnson,
1932). Thus, a stream showing right-angle bends
may be referred to as rectangular; one with acute
angle bends, as angulate; and one with tight hairpin turns, as contorted. The geologic implications
of these stream patterns are the same as for the
corresponding drainage patterns.
Other distinctive stream patterns are: the irregular pattern characterized by a more or less
random course and suggesting an absence of
structural or topographic control; the rectilinear
pattern, with abnormally long straight reaches,
generally indicating fracture control; the meandering pattern, indicating competency on the part
of the stream to transport available bed load
(Leopold and Wolman, 1957, p. 39); and the
braided pattern, indicating an inability to handle
bed load.^ Alternate meandering and braided
reaches, therefore, suggest local differences in the
texture of the materials being supplied to the
stream and may indicate alternate exposures of
* Detailed discussions of floodplain stream patterns
appear in Melton (1936) and Russell (1939).

2256

ARTHUR DAVID HOWARD

unlike materials. Misfit meandering streams, in


which the dimensions of the meanders do not
agree with those of meander scars or of floodplain scrolls, suggest geologic or climatic change.
The sickle pattern displays some arcuate curves
and is most common in areas of plutonic rocks
and migmatites. The barbed pattern indicates either piracy or the presence of joints, faults, or
layers of weak rock trending obliquely across the
path of the stream. The term "beaded" has been
applied to streams in the subarctic along which
small thaw sinks are present at irregular intervals. Successions of beaver dams give a
superficially similar pattern, as do, on a larger
scale, strings of glacial lakes.
The writer has named a new pattern, spatulate,
which could be included under beaded, but which
he believes is distinctive enough to warrant a separate designation. In essence, it consists of alternate broad valley segments and narrow defiles.
The pattern is displayed by some of the valleys,
such as the Aragva, that drain south from the
Caucasus in southern Russia. The Aragva and its
sister streams pass intermittently through resistant and weak Cretaceous sedimentary rocks
(Renngarten, 1937, p. 104). The streams are restricted to defiles where the more resistant carbonate rocks of the Upper Cretaceous are
brought down to river level in the troughs of
synclines, but they meander in broad open reaches
in the weaker, sandy-argillaceous Lower Cretaceous sediments of the anticlinal cores. The
defiles and open reaches range in length from O.S
to 2 mi or more. The pattern is quite regular in
these open folds, with the broad, elongate segments occurring at uniform intervals along the
valley.
Other spatulate patterns may have no structural significance. The spatulate pattern displayed by
the Missouri River in eastern Montana and western North Dakota is glacial in origin (Howard,
1958). The Missouri trench is locally 1 mi or less
in width; in intervening areas its width may exceed 4 mi. The narrow segments represent icemarginal paths cut across former divides,
whereas the broad elongate segments represent
parts of preglacial valleys. The pattern is irregular in that the broad segments inherit their
trends from an ancestral drainage whose trends
were opposed to the trend of the ice front. Thus
the broad segments are considerably varied in

orientation and are irregularly distributed along


the present valley.
DRAINAGE ANOMALIES

Anomalies in drainage patterns and in the patterns of individual streams have been the subject
of discussion in recent years. They are of particular importance in the flatlands. The analysis of
drainage may provide clues to structural features
undetectable by other methods.
A drainage anomaly can be defined as a local
deviation from the regional drainage and/or
stream pattern which elsewhere accords with the
known regional structure and/or topography.
The expectable pattern is regarded as the norm
(DeBlieux, 1949, p. 1253-1254), and the deviations are anomalies. An alternation of broad valley segments and narrow defiles along transverse
streams in areas in which the structure is known
to consist of folded weak and resistant rock is
herein regarded as normal, as are sicklelike
curves in granite areas. However, in many other
geologic environments these phenomena are
anomalous. Anomalies suggest structural or topographic deviations from the regional plan. Many
composite patterns, for example, involve a small
enclave of one pattern within another, rather
than two adjacent patterns of equal magnitude.
An illustration is the local occurrence of radial
and annular drainage within a regional dendritic
pattern (Fig. 4, A). Many pattern modifications
and varieties also involve anomalies as, for example, local parallelism of streams in a dendritic
pattern (Fig. 4, B). Many anomalies are localized
along individual streams. Some of these are listed
below.
Rectilinearity.Long, rectilinear segments of
streams, particularly if aligned across divides
with rectilinear segments of other streams, constitute an anomaly if the regional pattern is other
than rectangular, angulate, or fault-trellis. A fracture, or an easily erodable vein or dike is indicated. In Figure 4C the arrow indicates a rectilinear stream.
Abrupt and localized appearance of meanders.
DeBlieux (1949, p. 1259) has described an interesting stream anomaly at the Lafitte oil field in
Jefferson Parish, about IS mi south of New
Orleans (Fig. 4, D). The channel of an abandoned Mississippi River distributary is relatively
straight and simple for several miles upstream

DRAINAGE ANALYSIS IN (iEOLOGIC INTERPRKTA'l'ION


A. Dendritic with r a d i a l onnular enclave

B. Dendritic. Trellis influence

Rectilmeoi

s-r^v
D. Local

meandering

Compressed

meanders

Abandoned
Mississippi
distributary

2257

I ocal

mile

^^i_
braiding

Abandoned* * >
\\ \
e.ees
W I K
\ \ \

G. Pinched valley

H.

Anomalous flore in
valley

Anomolous pond.morsh, or
alluviQi fiM
1 L Kiogo

I'
m
J. Variation in levee width
2 miles

Scherr
L. Anomalous :;urves
turns
-

and

Schematic

FIG. 4.Examples of drainage anomalies. A. E, C, G--Amazon basin; E Kent County, Te-icas, after
DeBlieux and Shepherd, IP.'il; D, F, JLouisiana, after DeBlieu.x, 1Q45: K bouisiana. generalized after
DeBlieux, 1940; IEast Africa, after Holmes, 106,=^; H, L generalized exumpUand downstream from the Lafitte salt dome. At
the dome, however, two meanderlike curves are
present. This interruption of the normal pattern
may be related to a subtle upstream reduction in
stream gradient caused by the appearaiu:e of the
dome along its path.
Compressed meanders.DeBlieux and Shepherd (1951, p. 98) described a stream pattern
in which several meanders of an otherwise normal and continuous series are squeezed, compressed, and incised (Fig. 4, E). The anomaly,
along the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos
River in Kent County, Texas, is at the site of a
subsequently demonstrated structural anomaly.

No explanation of ihc anomaly is offered. McKenzie Creek, a tributary from the south, displays an anomalous (ur\e apparently influenced
by the dome.
Abrupt and localized braiding.DeBlieux
(1949, p. 1'2S9) reported the abrupt and local appearance of braiding at Scully salt dome in abandoned distributaries of Bayou Lafourche about 30
mi southwe.'^l of New Orleans Fig. 4. F). Braiding
generally indicates inal)ilit\- of a stream to transport its bed load (Leopold and Wolman, 1957, p.
50). Inability may resull from local acquisition
of a coarser load than the .stream is competent to
handle, loss of volume ilue to locally increased

2258

ARTHUR DAVID HOWARD

underflow, loss of velocity caused by flattening of


the gradient (perhaps by a rising structure), or
some other geologic or hydrologic factor. DeBlieux attributed the braiding to flattening of the
gradient. The presence of similar anomalies in
neighboring streams may permit regional delineation of the area or zone of anomalous behavior
and allow a more informed consideration of
cause. Correlation of meandering and braided
reaches in adjacent streams conceivably might
permit the delineation of formational boundaries.
The same may be indicated by more subtle variations in stream patterns (Tator, 1954, p. 414),
such as zonal variations in drainage density within the drainage pattern.
Anomalous pinching or faring of valleys or
channels.Local widening or narrowing of valleys or channels, not a repetitive feature of the
regional drainage pattern, may indicate local
structure. A shallow upwarp, for example, might
bring slightly weaker or more resistant materials
to stream level, thereby influencing the rate of
valley widening; or upwarping might result in incision of the stream, the valley being broader upstream and downstream (Fig. 4, G and H).
Anomalous ponds, marshes, or alluvial fills.
The presence of an isolated pond, marsh, or alluvial fill along the path of a mature stream where
landslides or other surficial causes can be excluded, may indicate damming by subsidence or by
uplift directly downstream. Some streams have
been able to maintain their courses across rising
obstructions; other streams have been diverted.
Excellent examples of anomalous ponding are
provided by Lakes Victoria and Kioga in East
Africa (Fig. 4, I). The lake basins originally
drained westward by way of the streams labeled
A and B in the figure. Relative subsidence of the
central area contemporaneous with creation of
the western and eastern rift valleys resulted in
drowning of the lake basins and reversal of the
direction of flow of the outlet streams, many of
whose tributaries are barbed and locally drowned.
Blocking of the western outlets diverted the waters of newly created Lake Victoria northward to
Lake Kioga and thence northwestward around the
northern end of the western rift valley. Although
these drainage modifications are on a grand scale,
similar phenomena may occur at all scales.
Anomalous breadth of levees.Russell (1939,
p. 1212) noted that leaves of abandoned channels

along the Mississippi River are narrower in some


places than others. He suggested that subsidence
of the levees at these places permitted encroachment by the neighboring swamp or marsh resulting in the reduced levee width.
It is recognized generally that subsidence in the
Mississippi delta is differential, being retarded
over the sites of buried structural features. Thus,
levees are generally broader where they cross
such structural features than they are up- or
downstream. This is true of the levees of the
abandoned Bayou Lafourche (Fig. 4, J) where it
crosses the Valentine dome about 30 mi southwest of New Orleans in Lafourche Parish (DeBlieux, 1949, p. 12S3). DeBheux recognized that
levee broadening may be caused by factors other
than subsidence, such as crevassing, bifurcation,
and coalescence, but believed that these causes
are readily recognizable.
Flying levees.In many parts of the Mississippi delta, former channels have subsided below
marsh level and only small fragments are
preserved, perhaps because they are on buried
structural features (Fig. 4, K). Because these
levee remnants are completely isolated, the
expression "flying levee" is herein proposed. DeBlieux (1949, p. 1253) cited the levee remnants
at Four Isle dome, about 70 mi southwest of
New Orleans in Terrebonne Parish, as an example. Here, the flying levees are more than 3 mi
downstream from the present terminus of Bayou
Grand Caillou.
Anomalous curves and turns.^An anomalous
curve or turn is one that is abnormal within the
drainage pattern in which it occurs. The varieties
are legion, being most common in the flatlands
(Fig. 4, L). For example, a domal upwarp across
the path of a stream may gently "shoulder" the
stream aside, forcing it to follow a curved, commonly semicircular path around the structural
feature. Barbed junctions similar to those resulting from piracy may be formed where tributaries
to one stream are blocked by an upwarp and are
deflected sharply into neighboring drainage. If a
domal upwarp takes place between parallel
streams, both streams may be deflected, resulting
in a peculiar "blowlegged" pattern. A stream
crossing an active strike-slip fault may be offset
laterally and display sharp right-angle turns where
it enters and leaves the rift. Faults may lead to
anomalous lengthening and flattening of a curve.

D R A I N A G E ANALYSIS I N GEOLOGIC I N T E R P R E T A T I O N
SUMMARY

Drainage analysis may provide information on


structural features and type of materials. T h e
analysis should consider not only basic patterns,
but also modified basic patterns, pattern varieties,
drainage texture, stream patterns, and anomalies.
The drainage patterns, individually and in combination, provide a certain amount of information
which, in the flatlands at least, may not be obtainable by ordinary field methods. The pahmpsest pattern is of special interest inasmuch as it
may indicate current tectonic activity.
Drainage texture within any one small area in
which climate, topography, and erosional history
are reasonably constant commonly may be indicative of the permeability of materials or of the
size of particles provided by weathering.
Individual stream patterns may provide information on structural features, rock type, hydraulic conditions, or geomorphic changes.
Drainage anomalies may provide information
on local structural features, active deformation,
differential subsidence, or changes in the hydrologic regimen.
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2259

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