Looking at curvy rivers on topographic maps or Google Earth has always been really interesting to me and for the longest time I’ve wondered how that snake like shape came to be. You would think that since a straight line is technically the shortest and easiest route to the ocean that nature would like straight lines. Nope.
After stumbling upon the video below about why rivers curve, I discovered that all it takes is a little bit of disturbance and a lot of time. Take for example a tree falls over and into the water. The current is diverted slightly allowing the riverbank to slowly erode on the opposite side. The slight change in current direction then bounces off that bank and gets diverted back over to the other side causing more erosion and eventually a curve in the river. Of course this doesn’t happen overnight and that is where time is the key factor.
Check out this time lapse of a river Peru to how much the river chances even over that short number of years.
Here is a final fun-fact for your next boring office party. It doesn’t matter how wide or big the river is, if it is flowing over soft ground, the length of an s-bend curve will be roughly six times the width of a river. So that means while a narrow river will look wigglier when comparing to a large wide river the ratio of length/width of the wiggles will always be the same no matter which river it is. Hydrodynamics are amazing.
I stumbled upon this very cool map this morning showing every single river in the lower 48 states.
It’s all part of a new vector map project released on GitHub by Nelson Minar so if you are techy, you can install the software on your own server and depending on your project, configure it to display the river information slightly different. Or, you can be like me and just play around with a live map here and dream of future trips.
All I know is that there is a whole lot of water out there to paddle on.