I'm designing a Nomadic culture and I had an interesting concept.

One of the reasons for nomadism is to find resources that "move" annually.

In the case of pastoral nomads, it is to find new pastures for their grazing animals, since grass can grow in different locations seasonally.

So for my fictional nomads, what if that "moving" resource is water.

Is there any "realistic" or semi-plausible way, rivers can "move" by hundreds of kilometers annually?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Much easier to arrange for two rivers which have water at different times of the year. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 11:56
  • $\begingroup$ Not plausibly annually. The Yellow River in China changes course from time to time, but not nearly that frequently, and not predictably. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, that would do. any more specifics on how that would work? $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 13:34
  • $\begingroup$ I can't prove this so I won't make it an answer, but while living in Texas, natives explained that the riverbed before damming would shift by hundreds of miles. One of the reasons for damming the river was to nail down the border, which was defined by the location of the river. This always occurs at the beginning of the spring runoff and depends on the compaction of the soil after the winter thaw. But IMO, what you're asking for is quite believable. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ There was some concern that the course of the Mississippi would change a few years ago (this would be devastating to the New Orleans economy). If that had happened, it likely would have done so in as little as 12-24 hours. Once the water decides it is going in a new direction, it does not wait weeks to do that. And everything that used to be downriver finds out at a rate that can be calculated with the general speed of the river and the distance from where it has changed course. $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 17:19

4 Answers 4


Different place every year.



These are dry riverbeds in Jordan. Many are very old. When the rains come, one comes to life or maybe more than one. Or maybe a new one. Or maybe none.

There are some stone structures in the mountains built by an ancient civilization that once functioned to direct where the water goes, to make seasonal water more predictable. Those people and their engineering skills are long gone. The structures do not work any more.

Your nomads go looking.


A seasonal monsoon.

The river is fueled by powerful rainstorms and monsoons which happen in particular locations at particular times of the year. This fills up a massive lake, which slowly discharges water down a river path.

The different rivers do merge in places, but generally they follow different paths, hundreds of kilometers apart.

  • $\begingroup$ Interesting, my fictional nomads would live in an arid region in the rain shadow of a large mountain range. perhaps the monsoons would bring water to random parts of said mountain range and would cause the water to be discharged via different basins. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 12:39

It doesn't need to be the river that moves, but what is in the river. Nomads are looking for seasonal resources. A river is simply a holder of resources.

So, look for seasonal runs of fish, eels, or crabs. Many animals rely on such seasonal runs including the bears in Alaska.

  • $\begingroup$ Nomads that follow a migrating animals like nomadic Native Americans following buffalos as what your getting at. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 22:22

The Glacial landscape in the ice age had many peculiarities. The Flat plains before the glaciers hid deep permafrost below the surface. In the summers, which surprisingly could become quite warm, the top layers would melt what snow was accumulated on top and some of the permafrost below the surface. This obviously cause great amounts of runoff, floods, bogs and other diverse types of ecosystems. One of which are areas where the permafrost as it thawed and was refrozen from the year before would upheave in great mounds, often in a scale that could be quite surprising.

The Result is that navigation of these plains was terribly difficult. Only the largest and truly immovable of features could be relied upon as landmarks. monolithic boulders could be covered in flood depositions. Rivers changed in scale or changed their course entirely. What few trees lived in these landscapes where windblown and tortured anyway, changing from year to year as well.

After the initial spring floods and bloom the summers became quite dry, and wildfires were not uncommon burning the gasses and sedges that coverd the landscape. Water was not hard to find with some effort. The permafrost was always a few feet below. But getting access though the hardpan soil and melting it was difficult.


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