Phenomena

Meandering River

When unconstrained by the local topography, rivers tend to meander, as shown in this astronaut photograph of the Arkansas River near Little Rock, AR. The current course of the river is visible in green in the lower right hand corner of the image, but numerous lakes and curved banks show some of the former paths the river took. When rivers develop a bend, flow is faster on the inner bank than around the outer bank. This speed difference causes a vortical secondary flow inside the river that removes sediment from the outer bank and deposits it on the inner side. The end result is that the bend in the river gets sharper and the river meanders further. Sometimes the bends get so sharp they pinch off, leaving behind lakes. (Photo credit: Exp. 38/NASA Earth Observatory)

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