Instability of the alternate-bar type in straight channels has long been identified as the cause of fluvial meandering. The condition of inerodible sidewalls, however, does not allow a meandering channel to develop. Herein a stability analysis of a sinuous channel with erodible banks allows for delineation of a ‘bend’ instability that does not occur in straight channels, and differs from the alternate-bar instability.
In the case of alluvial meanders, the two mechanisms are shown to operate at similar characteristic wavelengths. This provides a rationale for the continuous evolution of alternate bars into true bends such that each bend contains one alternate bar.
The same bend instability applies to incised meanders. A mechanism for incised alternate bars which differs from that for the alluvial case appears to operate at different characteristic wavelengths than that of bend instability. Analysis of data suggests that meandering in supraglacial meltwater streams is primarily due to the alternate bar mechanism, whereas the meandering of rills incised in cohesive material and of caves is likely due to the bend mechanism.
The meander wavelength of incised reaches of meandering streams is often longer than that of adjacent alluvial reaches. An explanation is offered in terms of bend instability.
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