The role of lateral erosion in the evolution of nondendritic drainage networks to dendricity and the persistence of dynamic networks

Jeffrey S. Kwang, Abigail L. Langston, Gary Parker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Dendritic, i.e., tree-like, river networks are ubiquitous features on Earth's landscapes; however, how and why river networks organize themselves into this form are incompletely understood. A branching pattern has been argued to be an optimal state. Therefore, we should expect models of river evolution to drastically reorganize (suboptimal) purely nondendritic networks into (more optimal) dendritic networks. To date, current physically based models of river basin evolution are incapable of achieving this result without substantial allogenic forcing. Here, we present a model that does indeed accomplish massive drainage reorganization. The key feature in our model is basin-wide lateral incision of bedrock channels. The addition of this submodel allows for channels to laterally migrate, which generates river capture events and drainage migration. An important factor in the model that dictates the rate and frequency of drainage network reorganization is the ratio of two parameters, the lateral and vertical rock erodibility constants. In addition, our model is unique from others because its simulations approach a dynamic steady state. At a dynamic steady state, drainage networks persistently reorganize instead of approaching a stable configuration. Our model results suggest that lateral bedrock incision processes can drive major drainage reorganization and explain apparent long-lived transience in landscapes on Earth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2015770118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Issue number16
StatePublished - Apr 20 2021


  • Drainage networks
  • Drainage reorganization
  • Landscape evolution
  • Lateral migration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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