River in a Box

(This page is part of the Earth Arcade story – scroll down to find information on this activity, or go here for a run down of the Earth Arcade)

You spot a large metal box on legs. It is surrounded by excited looking children and their captivated parents. Looking over their shoulders you see what is holding their attention but you don’t really understand. It just looks like a load of multi-coloured sand in the shallow box.

Breaking through the noise of the crowd you catch the gentle trickle of water and you see that it is being pumped from large bucket to the top of the box, and as it is angled on a slight slope the water flows across the multi-coloured sand. You watch for a while and notice that the water is shifting the sand around. The scientist explains that it is showing how rivers form and change over time.

It is truly fascinating. Some of the kids are placing houses in the box and seeing how long it takes for the river to wash them away. You learn the sand is made of plastic and that it is rivers and floods which move plastic pollution from the land to the sea. You thank the scientist for their explanation and move on.

What now?

I want to go more in depth with a topic.

I want to learn more about plastic pollution.

Leave the Earth Arcade.

I don’t have time for this, show me a list.

River in a Box is a Little River Research & Design EmRiver table. We use one to demonstrate how geomorphology (the processes of erosion, deposition and sediment transport that shape planetary surfaces) causes rivers to change over time. We have also been developing new ways of using it to show how rivers and floods act like conveyor belts moving plastic pollution from the land to the ocean.

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Visit the British Society for Geomorphology to learn more about this area of science.