Future of the Environment

Satellite imagery helps us understand how rivers suddenly change course

Much like earthquakes, river avulsions happen periodically in the same places. Image: Unsplash/USGS

Vamsi Ganti

Assistant Professor of Geography, University of California Santa Barbara


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Rivers can change course well above the backwater zone where avulsions happen in large coastal rivers. In picture: Aerial view of the Mississippi river and the dams connecting it to the Atchafalaya River. Image: US Army Corps of Engineers/Wikipedia

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Rapid sea-level rise can move avulsion sites inland on deltas. In picture: Aerial view of the Nile River delta at night from the International Space Station. Image: NASA

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