Thursday, May 19, 2011

A word in geography: char for a constantly changing floodplain island

Char, a word that looks like shorthand for the word character or charcoal—and also is used that way—has a special meaning in geography and geomorphology: a constantly changing, vanishing and (re)appearing island on the floodplains of a river; in particular, of one of the three major rivers of Bangladesh—the Padma, Jamuna and Meghna [1]. A typical char is a sandbank island (channel bar), called island char, which is completely surrounded by water of a river channel. In addition, there are attached chars; as the name suggests, they are attached to a riverbank [2].

Chars can be dry or flooded depending on tide, season and rainfall. In Bangladesh, char dwellers have adapted their life to the river and char dynamics. They build movable houses (different from mobile homes) and grow crops on char ground and switch chars when water levels demand. Although vulnerable to erosion and flood hazards, chars have groundwater in addition to the river water and most chars provide grasslands for cattle grazing.

References and further reading
[1] Don Belt: Buoyant in Bangladesh. National Geographic May 2011, 219 (5), pp. 58-83 [].
[2] Banglapedia: Char [].

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