Modeling Meanders

Alfalfa Sprouts Key To Discovering How Meandering Rivers Form

Some very cool stuff from the world of Geomorphology. Now that we’re realizing that channelizing rivers sometimes isn’t the best idea (well, as far as the flood plains and nearby shores are concerned, it’s never a good idea) and trying to get them back to their natural state, we’ve never managed to copy nature. We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t make a meandering river, to paraphrase. So this is some very cool modeling on how the process works, which means some day we might be able to get the meanders right.

*Quick terminology: Meandering rivers are those wandering, looping rivers we’re so familiar with. Such as The Amazon or the Mississippi or the Nile. You’re probably not familiar with braided rivers unless you live near the mountains or other sources of extremely coarse sediment, but here are a couple examples: Waimakariri River, drainage near the Yukon River. Basically, braided rivers have a lot of in-channel sediment deposits that the river cuts through in a multitude of small channels.

I definitely want to see if I can get my hot little hands on a copy of their results. It sounds extremely interesting. (Though I’m sure all the really technical stuff will make my head spin.) Also, the researcher does bring up some good questions about Mars and Titan. We can be pretty sure that neither place has or ever had the verdant banks that would help build meanders. So the real question is, how would meanders form in an environment without vegetation? What would provide the bank stability that lets the point bars grow? Maybe that’ll be the next experiment, after they’re done with their alfalfa jungle.

By the way? Best use for Alfalfa sprouts outside of a turkey sandwich. Truly.

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