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Title: River sinuosity describes a continuum between randomness and ordered growth
Abstract River channels are among the most common landscape features on Earth. An essential characteristic of channels is sinuosity: their tendency to take a circuitous path, which is quantified as along-stream length divided by straight-line length. River sinuosity is interpreted as a characteristic that either forms randomly at channel inception or develops over time as meander bends migrate. Studies tend to assume the latter and thus have used river sinuosity as a proxy for both modern and ancient environmental factors including climate, tectonics, vegetation, and geologic structure. But no quantitative criterion for planform expression has distinguished between random, initial sinuosity and that developed by ordered growth through channel migration. This ambiguity calls into question the utility of river sinuosity for understanding Earth's history. We propose a quantitative framework to reconcile these competing explanations for river sinuosity. Using a coupled analysis of modeled and natural channels, we show that while a majority of observed sinuosity is consistent with randomness and limited channel migration, rivers with sinuosity ≥1.5 likely formed their geometry through sustained, ordered growth due to channel migration. This criterion frames a null hypothesis for river sinuosity that can be applied to evaluate the significance of environmental interpretations in landscapes shaped by rivers. The quantitative link between sinuosity and channel migration further informs strategies for preservation and restoration of riparian habitat and guides predictions of fluvial deposits in the rock record and in remotely sensed environments from the seafloor to planetary surfaces.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1823530
NSF-PAR ID:
10376082
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Geology
Volume:
49
Issue:
12
ISSN:
0091-7613
Page Range / eLocation ID:
1506 to 1510
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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