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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

A meander, in general, is a bend in a sinuous watercourse or river. A meander forms when moving water in a stream erodes the outer banks and widens its valley, and the inner part of the river has less energy and deposits silt. A stream of any volume may assume a meandering course, alternately eroding sediments from the outside of a bend and depositing them on the inside. The result is a snaking pattern as the stream meanders back and forth across its down-valley axis. When a meander gets cut off from the main stream, an oxbow lake forms. Over time meanders migrate downstream, sometimes in such a short time as to create civil engineering problems for local municipalities attempting to maintain stable roads and bridges.

There is not yet full consistency or standardization of scientific terminology used to describe watercourses. A variety of symbols and schemes exist. Parameters based on mathematical formulae or numerical data vary as well, depending on the database used by the theorist. Unless otherwise defined in a specific scheme ‘meandering’ and ‘sinuosity’ here are synonymous and mean any repetitious pattern of bends, or waveforms. In some schemes, ‘meandering’ applies only to rivers with exaggerated circular loops or secondary meanders; that is, meanders on meanders.

Sinuosity is one of the channel types that a stream may assume over all or part of its course. All streams are sinuous at some time in their geologic history over some part of their length. The sinuosity of a meandering stream has a tendency to approach a critical state at which the opposing forces which create and cut off meanders interact in such a way that sinuosity fluctuates around a constant mean, regardless of the original conditions.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Meander" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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