The Stunning Beauty of Braided Rivers

Feb 26, 2016 3 comments

Most rivers flow in one broad channel of water, but some rivers split into lots of small channels that continually split and join each other to give a braided appearance. These are called braided rivers.

Braided rivers are usually wide but shallow. They typically form on fairly steep slopes and carry large amount of coarse-grained sediments. When the river’s flow decreases, these sediments get deposited on the river bed leaving behind small temporary islands of sands that cause the river’s channel to split. Aside from a steep gradient and abundance of sediments, a variable water discharge rate is essential to their formation. Consequently, braided rivers exist near mountainous regions, especially those with glaciers. Braided channels are also found in environments that dramatically decrease channel depth, and hence channel velocity, such as river deltas, alluvial fans and peneplains.


A braided river in Iceland. Photo credit: Andre Ermolaev/500px

The pattern of the braided channels will change over time as the sediment islands get eroded away and deposited in new islands as the speed and amount of water in the river changes.

Rivers with braided channels look stunningly beautiful in satellite images or from airplanes. Here are some of the most beautiful examples of braided rivers.


The Rakaia River in the Canterbury Plains in New Zealand's South Island is a beautiful example of a braided river. It is one of the largest braided rivers in New Zealand. Photo credit: Andrew Cooper/Wikimedia


Rakaia River. Photo credit: 


Rakaia River. Photo credit: Geoff Leeming/Flickr


The Brahmaputra River in Tibet, India and Bangladesh is another classic example. The river originates in Tibet and enters India through the state of Arunachal Pradesh. The river gets intricately braided once it enters the state of Assam where it acquires its common name Brahmaputra. For the next 700 km of its braided course through the valley, it gets mighty big even in the dry season. During rains, its banks are more than 8 km apart. Photo credit: Google Earth/


Brahmaputra River. Photo credit: Google Earth/


The Waitaki River is another large braided river in the South Island of New Zealand. It drains the Mackenzie Basin and runs some 110 kilometers south-east to enter the Pacific Ocean between Timaru and Oamaru. Photo credit: Google Earth


The Tagliamento River in north-east Italy is braided as it flows from the Alps to the Adriatic Sea. Photo credit:


The Waimakariri River in the South Island of New Zealand, is a braided river, about a kilometer wide with many changing channels cutting through the shingle. Photo credit: unknown/


The Waimakariri River. Photo credit: Philip Capper/Flickr


The Waimakariri River. Photo credit: Philip Capper/Flickr


A Landsat image of a braided section of the Congo River. Photo credit: Wired


The Congo River. Photo credit: Google Earth/


The Ob River in western Siberia, Russia, is the world's seventh longest river. Photo credit: Google Earth/


The ParanĂ¡ River in South America. This photograph shows a 29-kilometer stretch of the ParanĂ¡, downstream of the small city of Goya, Argentina. Photo credit: NASA


A braided river in Iceland. Photo credit: Andre Ermolaev/500px


A braided river in Iceland. Photo credit: Andre Ermolaev/500px


  1. Wow dude, you're whole comment rant/disclaimer is super off putting. I get that you don't like spam but there's got to be a better way.

    I actually enjoyed the article and site..until I read the comment disclaimer.

    1. Agree that this was super interesting. But the disclaimer is far from a rant (new to the tubes?) and if a small delta on seeing comments is the price for spam and garbage posts to be filtered...? Please make it so for all websites!

    2. Unknown is referring to an earlier disclaimer, which 'was' a sort of rant :P I had it toned down now.


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