Applications for
Science and Teaching

Through personal experience, observation, and the news, people are aware of human vs. river conflicts like flooding, drought, and destruction of infrastructure. Streams have been altered for flood control, navigation, and other needs, negatively affecting the physical and biological functions of flowing waters. These alterations are among the most tangible and pressing environment problems we face.

To make sound river restoration a reality, more active engagement in scientific processes is essential in training future geoscientists and in fostering informed decisions on science and societal issues.

Emriver models, also known as stream tables or moveable bed models, use flowing water and moveable media to simulate sediment. These models help meet science education challenges by connecting science to everyday life. They realistically and dynamically simulate a wide range of fluvial processes and enable learning tied to real-world problems and solutions.

Without physical models, students observe a static, post-erosion river; look at pictures and video of the river in its current state; or study historical geological events. The river model transforms observation into hands-on interaction and encourages experimental activities tied to fundamental geomorphic processes. Using stream tables to study rivers also provides a powerful means of teaching STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) principles and puts the student in control of his or her learning.

This kind of teaching engages students, fosters critical thinking skills, develops positive attitudes towards STEM, and prepares the next generation for a world where interaction between humans and rivers will be increasingly important.


Emriver stream tables can be used in a wide range of disciplines and applications. The images and table below provide an overview of the topics and exercises that can be used in different educational settings when talking about, for example, why and how rivers meander.

Frames from a video (top photo) show evolution of a channel from straight to meandering in a small moveable bed model. A video frame (above) from this sequence is contrasted with an aerial image from the Grand River in northern Missouri. Measurements are common in fluvial geomorphology and, either as snapshots or as a time series, can be used by students to explore basic math and geometry using the models.

Discipline or educational setting Exercises
Geology, fluvial geomorphology, physical geography Time-integrated measurements of long profile and planform with time-lapse photogrammetry; sediment and water discharge variation from initial to stable condition
Aquatic ecology Interaction between habitat elements and geomorphic process; riparian plant effects on cross-sectional and long-profile morphology; experiments to relate sinuosity to diversity in depth and velocity
Forestry, riparian zone management Woody plant effects on bank migration rates and re-meandering; development of floodplains and forests; channel-floodplain hydraulic connection/disconnection
Environmental planning Prediction of meander movement; meander belt mapping; floodplain management and zoning; river-friendly development; re-meandering of channelized urban streams
Engineering Bank erosion prediction; bank protection design; bioengineering design; distribution of hydraulic energy in the long profile; bioengineering vs. hard bank protection
Restoration science Basic fluvial geomorphology; natural channel design; bank revegetation and hydraulic roughness; naturally stable channel geometry
and high school STEM
Math: Meander geometry measurements, slope and sinuosity calculations
Scientific method: Do changes in discharge cause meander geometry to change? Environmental science: Anthropogenic impact to rivers
Time-integrated geometric measurement using time-lapse photography
Informal education Non-intuitive nature of river behavior (rivers do not remain straight); importance of science in understanding and managing the environment; time scales in science; “big picture” view; restoration science

What makes Emriver models different

Other moveable bed river models are limited in their usefulness. They’re small, and their narrow widths are inadequate to properly show river meandering processes. Their smaller size and box perimeter also limit the number of students who can observe. The Em2 can easily accommodate a dozen students; Em3 and Em4 can accommodate even more.

Emriver models are designed and built for years of hard use with little maintenance, and they’re optimized for size and portability. All other models use lightweight plastic boxes or tubs to contain the modeling media and water; Emriver models use strong, engineered aluminum boxes. Most other models provide no support and must be used on a table; Emriver supports are durable and can safely support several hundred pounds. The Emriver’s pumping, metering, and flow control systems use the highest quality components. The models use a durable, 12 V marine pump, which allows field use. This isn’t possible with other models without using generators.

Emriver models use a precise, electronic controller to control flow rates, and Little River Research & Design offers a digital-flow controller to measure flow rates. None of the other models provide flow metering.

All other models use sand as a modeling media. Emriver models use plastic modeling media made from recycled materials, which is much lighter than sand. It’s safe and clean, and its bright, varied colors show sediment transport processes better.

Emriver models come with a comprehensive instruction manual with exercises and demonstrations for academic and informal education, and an informational DVD that includes a guide to teaching river conservation, with dozens of clips and teaching notes.

See the models in use

Various pages on this website feature videos of the models in use. In addition, our YouTube channel includes all of our videos, plus a playlist of River Geomorphology videos filmed using an Emriver Em2 model. Each video in the playlist includes a description, but you can also download a teaching guide.

Streams have been altered for flood control, navigation, and other needs, negatively affecting the physical and biological functions of flowing waters. These alterations are among the most tangible and pressing environmental problems we face.