Straight stream channels are rare. Where they do occur, the channel is usually controlled by a linear zone of weakness in the underlying rock, like a fault or joint system. Even in straight channel segments water flows in a sinuous fashion, with the deepest part of the channel changing from near one bank to near the other. Velocity is highest in the zone overlying the deepest part of the stream. In these areas, sediment is transported readily resulting in pools. Where the velocity of the stream is low, sediment is deposited to form bars. The bank closest to the zone of highest velocity is usually eroded and results in a cutbank.
Because of the velocity structure of a stream, and especially in streams flowing over low gradients with easily eroded banks, straight channels will eventually erode into meandering channels. Erosion will take place on the outer parts of the meander bends where the velocity of the stream is highest. Sediment deposition will occur along the inner meander bends where the velocity is low. Such deposition of sediment results in exposed bars, called point bars. Because meandering streams are continually eroding on the outer meander bends and depositing sediment along the inner meander bends, meandering stream channels tend to migrate back and forth across their flood plain.
If erosion on the outside meander bends continues to take place, eventually a meander bend can become cut off from the rest of the stream. When this occurs, the cutoff meander bend, because it is still a depression, will collect water and form a type of lake called an oxbow lake.
In streams having highly variable discharge and easily eroded banks, sediment gets deposited to form bars and islands that are exposed during periods of low discharge. In such a stream the water flows in a braided pattern around the islands and bars, dividing and reuniting as it flows downstream. Such a channel is termed a braided channel. During periods of high discharge, the entire stream channel may contain water and the islands are covered to become submerged bars. During such high discharge, some of the islands could erode, but the sediment would be re-deposited as the discharge decreases, forming new islands or submerged bars. Islands may become resistant to erosion if they become inhabited by vegetation,