Without human intervention, meandering rivers become more sinuous over time. This is driven by the flow around a river bend, which tends to push sediment from the outer bank of the curve to the inner, making the bend more pronounced. Eventually, loops in the river can pinch off and form a separate oxbow lake, as seen in the animation above and video below.
By studying many photo sequences like this one, researchers have concluded that how quickly a river bend meanders depends on its curvature. In general, the higher the curvature, the faster the river bend will migrate. When rivers deviate from this rule of thumb, it’s typically because part of a river bank is tougher to erode than other sections. (Image and video credit: Z. Sylvester/Geolounge; research credit: Z. Sylvester; via Landsat; submitted by Aatish B.)