Meandering Mississippi

This satellite photo of the Mississippi River south of Memphis, TN shows how the river’s course has changed over time. When a river bends, the water near the inner bank flows faster than the water by the outer bank. This difference in speeds actually creates a vortical secondary flow in the boundary layer of the river that erodes sediment from the outer bank and deposits it on the inner bank. This increases the meander of the river bend. If this continues long enough, the river bend can get pinched off into an oxbow lake, like the ones scattered to either side of the current river path.

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