From straight to deeply incised meandering channels: Slope impact on sinuosity of confined streams

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Meandering channels and valleys are dominant landscape features on Earth. Their morphology and remnants potentially indicate past base-level fluctuations and changing regional slopes. The prevailing presence of meandering segments in low-slope areas somewhat confuses the physically based relationships between slope and channel meandering. This relationship underlies a fundamental debate: do incised sinuous channels actively develop during steepening of a regional slope, or do they inherit the planform of a preexisting sinuous channel through vertical incision? This question was previously explored through reconstructed evolution of meandering rivers, numerical simulations, and controlled, scaled-down laboratory experiments. Here, we study a rare, field-scale set of a dozen adjacent perennial channels, evolving in recent decades in a homogeneous erodible substrate in response to the Dead Sea level fall (> 30 m over 40 years). These channels are fed by perennial springs and have no drainage basin or previous fluvial history; they initiated straight and transformed into incising meandering channels following the emergence of the preexisting lake bathymetry, which resulted in increased channel lengths and regional slopes at different rates for each channel. This field setting allows testing the impact of changing regional slope on the sinuosity of a stream in the following cases: (a) relatively long and low-gradient shelf-like margins, (b) a sharp increase in the basinward gradient at the shelf-slope transition, and (c) gradually steepening slopes. Under a stable and low valley slope, the channels mainly incise vertically, inheriting a preexisting sinuous pattern. When the regional slope steepens, the channels start to meander, accompanying the vertical incision. The highest sinuosity evolved in the steepest channel, which also developed the deepest and widest valley. These results emphasize the amplifying impact of steepening regional slope on sinuosity. This holds when the flow is confined and chute cutoffs are scarce.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1041-1054
Number of pages14
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number5
StatePublished - Apr 2021


  • Dead Sea
  • base-level fall
  • channel incision
  • incised meanders
  • steepening slope

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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