The role of externally imposed sediment supplies on the evolution of meandering rivers and their floodplains is poorly understood, despite analytical advances in our physical understanding of river meandering1,2. The Amazon river basin hosts tributaries that are largely unaffected by engineering controls and hold a range of sediment loads, allowing us to explore the influence that sediment supply has on river evolution. Here we calculate average annual rates of meander migration within 20 reaches in the Amazon Basin from Landsat imagery spanning 1985–2013. We find that rivers with high sediment loads experience annual migration rates that are higher than those of rivers with lower sediment loads. Meander cutoff also occurs more frequently along rivers with higher sediment loads. Differences in meander migration and cutoff rates between the study reaches are not explained by differences in channel slope or river discharge. Because faster meander migration and higher cutoff rates lead to increased sediment-storage space in the resulting oxbows, we suggest that sediment supply modulates the reshaping of floodplain environments by meandering rivers. We conclude that imposed sediment loads influence planform changes in lowland rivers across the Amazon.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $8.25 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Pittaluga, M. B. & Seminara, G. Nonlinearity and unsteadiness in river meandering: A review of progress in theory and modelling. Earth Surf. Process. Landf. 36, 20–38 (2011).
Asahi, K., Shimizu, Y., Nelson, J. & Parker, G. Numerical simulation of river meandering with self-evolving banks. J. Geophys. Res. 118, 2208–2229 (2013).
Dunne, T., Mertes, L. A. K., Meade, R. H., Richey, J. E. & Forsberg, B. R. Exchanges of sediment between the flood plain and channel of the Amazon River in Brazil. Geol. Soc. Am. Bull. 110, 450–467 (1998).
Engel, F. L. & Rhoads, B. L. Interaction among mean flow, turbulence, bed morphology, bank failures and channel planform in an evolving compound meander loop. Geomorphology 163–164, 70–83 (2012).
Finer, M. & Jenkins, C. N. Proliferation of hydroelectric dams in the Andean Amazon and implications for Andes-Amazon connectivity. PLoS ONE 7, e35126 (2012).
Baker, V. R. Fluvial Sedimentology—Modern Rivers: Geomorphology and Sedimentology Vol. 5, 211–230 (Can. Soc. Petrol. Geol., 1977).
Filizola, N. & Guyot, J. L. Suspended sediment yields in the Amazon basin: An assessment using the Brazilian national data set. Hydrol. Process. 23, 3207–3215 (2009).
Guyot, J. L. et al. Proc. 4th Int. Symp. River Sedimentation (International Network on Erosion and Sedimentation, 1989).
Latrubesse, E. M., Stevaux, J. C. & Sinha, R. Tropical rivers. Geomorphology 70, 187–206 (2005).
Guyot, J. L., Bourges, J. & Cortez, J. Variability in Stream Erosion and Sediment Transport Vol. 224, 223–231 (IAHS Publ., 1994).
Callander, R. A. Instability and river channels. J. Fluid Mech. 36, 465–480 (1969).
Gorycki, M. A. Hydraulic drag: A meander-initiating mechanism. Bull. Geol. Soc. Am. 84, 175–186 (1973).
Ikeda, S., Parker, G. & Sawai, K. Bend theory of river meanders. Part 1. Linear development. J. Fluid Mech. 112, 363–377 (1981).
Van de Lageweg, W. I., van Dijk, W. M., Baar, A. W., Rutten, J. & Kleinhans, M. G. Bank pull or bar push: What drives scroll-bar formation on meandering rivers. Geology 42, 319–322 (2014).
Dietrich, W. E., Smith, J. D. & Dunne, T. Flow and sediment transport in a sand bedded meander. J. Geol. 87, 305–315 (1979).
Lewin, J. Initiation of bed forms and meanders in coarse-grained sediment. Geol. Soc. Am. Bull. 87, 281–285 (1976).
Braudrick, C. A., Dietrich, W. E., Leverich, G. T. & Sklar, L. Experimental evidence for the conditions necessary to sustain meandering in coarse-bedded rivers. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 106, 16936–16941 (2009).
Constantine, C. R. Quantifying the Connections Between Flow, Bar Deposition, and Meander Migration in Large Gravel-Bed Rivers PhD thesis, Univ. California (2006).
Pizzuto, J. E. & Meckelnburg, T. S. Evaluation of a linear bank erosion equation. Wat. Resour. Res. 25, 1005–1013 (1989).
Legleiter, C. J., Harrison, L. R. & Dunne, T. Effect of point bar development on the local force balance governing flow in a simple, meandering gravel-bed river. J. Geophys. Res. 116, 10.1029/2010JF001838 (2011).
Latrubesse, E. M., Amsler, M. L., de Morais, R. P. & Aquino, S. The geomorphologic response of a large pristine alluvial river to tremendous deforestation in the South American tropics: The case of the Araguaia River. Geomorphology 113, 239–252 (2009).
Beighley, R. E. & Gummadi, V. Developing channel and floodplain dimensions with limited data: A case study in the Amazon Basin. Earth Surf. Process. Landf. 36, 1059–1071 (2011).
Lewin, J. & Ashworth, P. J. The negative relief of large river floodplains. Earth Sci. Rev. 129, 1–23 (2014).
Constantine, J. A., Dunne, T., Piégay, H. & Kondolf, M. Controls on the alluviation of oxbow lakes by bed-material load along the Sacramento River, California. Sedimentology 57, 389–407 (2010).
Constantine, J. A. & Dunne, T. Meander cutoff and the controls on the production of oxbow lakes. Geology 36, 23–26 (2008).
Mertes, L. A. K., Dunne, T. & Martinelli, L. A. Channel-floodplain geomorphology along the Solimões-Amazon River, Brazil. Geol. Soc. Am. Bull. 108, 1089–1107 (1996).
Lauer, J. W. & Parker, G. Net local removal of floodplain sediment by river migration. Geomorphology 96, 123–149 (2008).
Aalto, R., Lauer, J. W. & Dietrich, W. E. Spatial and temporal dynamics of sediment accumulation and exchange along Strickland River floodplains (Papua New Guinea) over decadal-to-centennial timescales. J. Geophys. Res. 113, 10.1029/2006JF000627 (2008).
Räsänen, M., Neller, R., Salo, J. & Jungner, H. Recent and ancient fluvial deposition systems in the Amazonian foreland basin, Peru. Geol. Mag. 129, 293–306 (1992).
Miller, J. et al. Effects of the 1997 flood on the transport and storage of sediment and mercury within the Carson River Valley, West-Central Nevada. J. Geol. 107, 313–327 (1999).
The study was supported by NERC grant NE/I002081/1, NASA grant NAG5-6120, the Don J. Easterbrook Award of the Geological Society of America, and by the National Research Foundation Singapore and the Singapore Ministry of Education under the Research Centres of Excellence initiative (EOS contribution 78). The UK Leverhulme Trust, the US Fulbright Commission, and the Earth Observatory of Singapore also supported T. Dunne. We thank N. Morales, J. Teng and C. Constantine for assistance in data collection and for discussions relating to hypothesis development.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Constantine, J., Dunne, T., Ahmed, J. et al. Sediment supply as a driver of river meandering and floodplain evolution in the Amazon Basin. Nature Geosci 7, 899–903 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2282
Nature Energy (2021)
Limnological effects of a large Amazonian run-of-river dam on the main river and drowned tributary valleys
Scientific Reports (2019)
Nature Geoscience (2019)
River beads as a conceptual framework for building carbon storage and resilience to extreme climate events into river management