Magazine article Geographical

Is There a Relationship between the Length of a River and Its 'As the Crow Flies' Distance from Source to Mouth?

Magazine article Geographical

Is There a Relationship between the Length of a River and Its 'As the Crow Flies' Distance from Source to Mouth?

Article excerpt

P Soames, Hereford

ANSWER: During the mid-1990s, Cambridge University researcher Professor Hans-Henrik Stolum found that the ratio between the actual length of a river and the straight-line distance from its source to its mouth--known as its sinuosity--is typically about three. For older rivers, which will have had a chance to develop lengthy, meandering courses, the ratio often approaches 3.14, similar to the value of pi, the irrational number that links the radius of a circle to its circumference and area.

The reason why pi plays a big part in the relationship comes down to chaos theory. Chaos theory is based on the idea that tiny changes can lead to large-scale effects over time and that apparently random fluctuations can still lead to surprisingly similar shapes, such as the way that rivers tend to meander in the same way as long as they aren't constrained by narrow valleys.

In the case of rivers, it was Albert Einstein who came up with a reason why rivers meander. …

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