River landforms

Meanders, oxbow lakes and waterfalls

Meanders + Oxbow lakes


  • The river erodes laterally (to the right and left), forms big bends and finally horseshoe loops called meanders.
  • Meanders are formed by deposition and erosion

Oxbow lakes

  • The force of the water erodes and undercuts the river bank on the outside of the bend where there is most energy due to less friction.
  • On the inside of the bend, where the river flow is slower, material is deposited, as there is more friction.
  • Over time the horseshoe becomes tighter, until the ends become very close together. As the river breaks through, eg during a flood when the river has more energy, and the ends join, the loop is cut-off from the main river. The cut-off loop is called an oxbow lake.
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  • A waterfall forms when hard rock lies over soft rock
  • The river flows over the hard rock and the softer rock erodes away, creating an overhang.
  • When the overhang gets too big, the whole thing collapses because of weight and gravity.
  • This process repeats and the waterfall will move backwards over time.
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