It’s almost impossible to find a river or a stream flowing in a prolonged straight path; they must always carve. The continuous “snaking” of the river can result in amazing physical features and beautiful sceneries– they are known as river meanders.

What happens when a meandering river abandons a specific channel? How do experts explain the “snaking?” This article provides simplified river meander facts to help you find answers to these and more questions that you may have.

1. Sediments Erosion Causes River Meanders

As aforementioned, a meandering river flows through a curved channel along an underlying river bed. The water flows from the outer to the inner bank near the river’s surface; experts call this helicoidal flow. As a result, the water carries sediments from the external bank and deposits them on the inner bank. The process repeats itself, causing river meanders.

2. River Meanders Can Form Lakes

As the river meanders and reaches flat, low-lying terrains, erosion and deposition make the meanders more pronounced. Over time, the neck of the land between the two closest meander sides erodes away, resulting in an oxbow lake. The river then assumes a new path.

4. Lake Chicot Is The Largest Lake Formed From River Meanders

Next to the Mississippi River, Lake Chicot is the biggest oxbow lake in the world, and it is found in Chicot County, Arkansas. Referred to as the Old River Lake by the natives, Lake Chicot doubles up as the largest natural lake in Arkansas.

It measures around 1.21 km (0.75 miles) wide and 34-35 km (21-22 miles) long. The lake facilitates activities such as boating, fishing, and has a national park nearby.

5. Amazon River Is Among Those With The Biggest Sediments Discharge

While other massive rivers like the Mississippi have great river meanders, explorers believe the Amazon River takes the day in that aspect. The scale of the meanders is relatively more immense. If anything, the river’s amplitude from the top of a meander to the lower carves can be as big as 18 kilometers. This is very impressive compared to the 6 km difference between Mississippi River meanders.

6. There Are Several River Meander Associated Landforms

Other than oxbow lakes, river meanders can result in several other landforms. For instance, a cut bank is a vertical cliff or bank formed on the outside, a concave bank where a meander was cut off into a stream or river floodplain. Others include incised meanders, meander cutoffs, Slip-off slopes, scroll bars, and point bars.

7. River Meanders Are Often Bigger than The River’s Width

When a river meanders, the length of the meander can be up to 14 times bigger than the river’s actual width. However, experts average the difference at an average of 11 times.

8. The Word “Meander” Originates from a River in Turkey

Buyuk Menderes River is located in the present-day Turkey. Historians believe it is the origin of the word “meander, ” which describes a “snaking” river or anything convoluted and winding. The river derives its name from the Greek word “Maiandros,” which was translated to Latin word “Maeander,” and eventually to English.

9. Different Theories Try to Explain River Meanders

While there is an agreed-upon science as to how river meanders are formed, there are several theories trying to explain how different rivers start to curve in the first place. They include the equilibrium, stochastic, and geomorphic and morphotectnoic theories.

10. River Meanders Mostly Occur on Flat Terrains

River meanders mainly occur in generally flat terrains. Here, the speed of the flowing water reduces significantly, forcing the river to curve.

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Last Update: November 1, 2023