What Are the Three Stages of Stream Development?

The three stages of stream development are youthful, mature and old age. Each stage occurs in different locations and features specific characteristics.

The first stage of stream development is youthful. This usually takes place in a V-shaped valley and is characterized by steep channels and a straight gradient. There are no floodplains or meanders at this stage, and the stream is still developing its channels. It is rare to see floodplains at this point, and if there are any they are very small. One example is rapids.

At the mature stage, streams begin to show signs of bends and curves, which are known as meanders, and floodplains start to develop. The gradient, velocity and discharge become moderate, and they are present in valleys and hills that are rounded.

By the old stage, streams have clearly defined floodplains and the meanders are very pronounced. Old streams feature slower velocities, reduced gradients and greater discharge. This discharge begins to deposit on the side of the streams in the form of sand and other types of sediment. When the local area experiences heavy rainfall, old streams burst their banks. In some cases, streams deviate from some of their meanders to follow a new stream channel. These meanders are usually visible in the landscape.