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CHAPTER

GEOMORPHIC PROCESSES

A
fter learning about how the earth was forces continuously elevate or build up parts
born, how it evolved its crust and other of the earth’s surface and hence the exogenic
inner layers, how its crustal plates processes fail to even out the relief variations
moved and are moving, and other information of the surface of the earth. So, variations remain
on earthquakes, the forms of volcanism and as long as the opposing actions of exogenic and
about the rocks and minerals the crust is endogenic forces continue. In general terms,
composed of, it is time to know in detail about the endogenic forces are mainly land building
the surface of the earth on which we live. Let forces and the exogenic processes are mainly
us start with this question. land wearing forces. The surface of the earth is
sensitive. Humans depend on it for their
Why is the surface of the earth uneven? sustenance and have been using it extensively
and intensively. So, it is essential to understand
First of all, the earth’s crust is dynamic. You its nature in order to use it effectively without
are well aware that it has moved and moves disturbing its balance and diminishing its
vertically and horizontally. Of course, it moved potential for the future. Almost all organisms
a bit faster in the past than the rate at which it contribute to sustain the earth’s environment.
is moving now. The differences in the internal However, humans have caused over use of
forces operating from within the earth which
resources. Use we must, but must also leave it
built up the crust have been responsible for
potential enough to sustain life through the
the variations in the outer surface of the crust.
future. Most of the surface of the earth had and
The earth’s surface is being continuously
has been shaped over very long periods of time
subjected to external forces induced basically
(hundreds and thousands of years) and
by energy (sunlight). Of course, the internal
because of its use and misuse by humans its
forces are still active though with different
potential is being diminished at a fast rate. If
intensities. That means, the earth’s surface is
the processes which shaped and are shaping
being continuously subjected to by external
the surface of the earth into varieties of forms
forces originating within the earth’s atmosphere
(shapes) and the nature of materials of which
and by internal forces from within the earth.
it is composed of, are understood, precautions
The external forces are known as exogenic
can be taken to minimise the detrimental effects
forces and the internal forces are known as
of human use and to preserve it for posterity.
endogenic forces. The actions of exogenic
forces result in wearing down (degradation) of
GEOMORPHIC PROCESSES
relief/elevations and filling up (aggradation) of
basins/depressions, on the earth’s surface. The You would like to know the meaning of
phenomenon of wearing down of relief geomorphic processes. The endogenic and
variations of the surface of the earth through exogenic forces causing physical stresses and
erosion is known as gradation. The endogenic chemical actions on earth materials and
46 FUNDAMENTALS OF PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY

bringing about changes in the configuration ENDOGENIC PROCESSES


of the surface of the earth are known as
The energy emanating from within the earth is
geomorphic processes. Diastrophism and
the main force behind endogenic geomorphic
volcanism are endogenic geomorphic processes. This energy is mostly generated by
processes. These have already been discussed radioactivity, rotational and tidal friction and
in brief in the preceding unit. Weathering, mass primordial heat from the origin of the earth.
wasting, erosion and deposition are exogenic This energy due to geothermal gradients and
geomorphic processes. These exogenic heat flow from within induces diastrophism
processes are dealt with in detail in this chapter. and volcanism in the lithosphere. Due to
Any exogenic element of nature (like water, variations in geothermal gradients and heat flow
ice, wind, etc.,) capable of acquiring and from within, crustal thickness and strength,
transporting earth materials can be called a the action of endogenic forces are not uniform
geomorphic agent. When these elements of and hence the tectonically controlled original
nature become mobile due to gradients, they crustal surface is uneven.
remove the materials and transport them over
slopes and deposit them at lower level. Diastrophism
Geomorphic processes and geomorphic agents
All processes that move, elevate or build up
especially exogenic, unless stated separately,
portions of the earth’s crust come under
are one and the same.
diastrophism. They include: (i) orogenic
A process is a force applied on earth
processes involving mountain building
materials affecting the same. An agent is a
through severe folding and affecting long and
mobile medium (like running water, moving ice narrow belts of the earth’s crust; (ii) epeirogenic
masses, wind, waves and currents etc.) which processes involving uplift or warping of large
removes, transports and deposits earth parts of the earth’s crust; (iii) earthquakes
materials. Running water, groundwater, involving local relatively minor movements;
glaciers, wind, waves and currents, etc., can (iv) plate tectonics involving horizontal
be called geomorphic agents. movements of crustal plates.
In the process of orogeny, the crust is
Do you think it is essential to distinguish severely deformed into folds. Due to epeirogeny,
geomorphic agents and geomorphic there may be simple deformation. Orogeny is
processes? a mountain building process whereas
epeirogeny is continental building process.
Gravity besides being a directional force
Through the processes of orogeny, epeirogeny,
activating all downslope movements of matter
earthquakes and plate tectonics, there can be
also causes stresses on the earth’s materials.
faulting and fracturing of the crust. All these
Indirect gravitational stresses activate wave and
processes cause pressure, volume and
tide induced currents and winds. Without temperature (PVT) changes which in turn
gravity and gradients there would be no induce metamorphism of rocks.
mobility and hence no erosion, transportation
and deposition are possible. So, gravitational Epeirogeny and orogeny, cite the
stresses are as important as the other differences.
geomorphic processes. Gravity is the force that
is keeping us in contact with the surface and it
is the force that switches on the movement of Volcanism
all surface material on earth. All the movements Volcanism includes the movement of molten
either within the earth or on the surface of the rock (magma) onto or toward the earth’s
earth occur due to gradients — from higher surface and also formation of many intrusive
levels to lower levels, from high pressure to low and extrusive volcanic forms. Many aspects of
pressure areas etc. volcanism have already been dealt in detail
GEOMORPHIC PROCESSES 47

under volcanoes in the Unit II and under processes and their respective driving forces.
igneous rocks in the preceding chapter in this It should become clear from this chart that for
unit. each process there exists a distinct driving force
or energy.
What do the words volcanism and As there are different climatic regions on
volcanoes indicate? the earth’s surface owing to thermal gradients
created by latitudinal, seasonal and land and
water spread variations, the exogenic
EXOGENIC PROCESSES
geomorphic processes vary from region to
The exogenic processes derive their energy region. The density, type and distribution of
from atmosphere determined by the ultimate vegetation which largely depend upon
energy from the sun and also the gradients
created by tectonic factors.

Why do you think that the slopes or


gradients are created by tectonic factors?

Gravitational force acts upon all earth


materials having a sloping surface and tend to
produce movement of matter in down slope
direction. Force applied per unit area is called
stress. Stress is produced in a solid by pushing Figure 6.1 : Denudational processes and their
or pulling. This induces deformation. Forces driving forces
acting along the faces of earth materials are precipitation and temperature exert influence
shear stresses (separating forces). It is this indirectly on exogenic geomorphic processes.
stress that breaks rocks and other earth Within different climatic regions there may be
materials. The shear stresses result in angular local variations of the effects of different climatic
displacement or slippage. Besides the elements due to altitudinal differences, aspect
gravitational stress earth materials become variations and the variation in the amount of
subjected to molecular stresses that may be insolation received by north and south facing
caused by a number of factors amongst which slopes as compared to east and west facing
temperature changes, crystallisation and slopes. Further, due to differences in wind
melting are the most common. Chemical velocities and directions, amount and kind of
processes normally lead to loosening of bonds precipitation, its intensity, the relation between
between grains, dissolving of soluble minerals precipitation and evaporation, daily range of
or cementing materials. Thus, the basic reason temperature, freezing and thawing frequency,
that leads to weathering, mass movements, depth of frost penetration, the geomorphic
erosion and deposition is development of processes vary within any climatic region.
stresses in the body of the earth materials.
As there are different climatic regions on What is the sole driving force behind all
the earth’s surface the exogenic geomorphic the exogenic processes?
processes vary from region to region.
Temperature and precipitation are the two Climatic factors being equal, the intensity
important climatic elements that control of action of exogenic geomorphic processes
various processes. depends upon type and structure of rocks. The
All the exogenic geomorphic processes are term structure includes such aspects of rocks
covered under a general term, denudation. The as folds, faults, orientation and inclination of
word ‘denude’ means to strip off or to uncover. beds, presence or absence of joints, bedding
Weathering, mass wasting/movements, erosion planes, hardness or softness of constituent
and transportation are included in denudation. minerals, chemical susceptibility of mineral
The flow chart (Figure 6.1) gives the denudation constituents; the permeability or impermeability
48 FUNDAMENTALS OF PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY

etc. Different types of rocks with differences in


their structure offer varying resistances to
various geomorphic processes. A particular
rock may be resistant to one process and non-
resistant to another. And, under varying
climatic conditions, particular rocks may
exhibit different degrees of resistance to
geomorphic processes and hence they operate
at differential rates and give rise to differences
in topography. The effects of most of the
exogenic geomorphic processes are small and
slow and may be imperceptible in a short time
span, but will in the long run affect the rocks
severely due to continued fatigue.
Finally, it boils down to one fact that the
Figure 6.2 : Climatic regimes and depth of weathering
differences on the surface of the earth though
mantles (adapted and modified from Strakhov, 1967)
originally related to the crustal evolution
continue to exist in some form or the other due
to differences in the type and structure of earth Activity
materials, differences in geomorphic processes
and in their rates of operation. Mark the latitude values of different
Some of the exogenic geomorphic processes climatic regimes in Figure 6.2 and
have been dealt in detail here. compare the details.

WEATHERING There are three major groups of weathering


Weathering is action of elements of weather and processes : (i) chemical; (ii) physical or
climate over earth materials. There are a mechanical; (iii) biological weathering processes.
number of processes within weathering which Very rarely does any one of these processes ever
act either individually or together to affect the operate completely by itself, but quite often a
earth materials in order to reduce them to dominance of one process can be seen.
fragmental state.
Chemical Weathering Processes
Weathering is defined as mechanical A group of weathering processes viz; solution,
disintegration and chemical decom- carbonation, hydration, oxidation and
position of rocks through the actions of reduction act on the rocks to decompose,
various elements of weather and climate. dissolve or reduce them to a fine clastic state
through chemical reactions by oxygen, surface
As very little or no motion of materials and/or soil water and other acids. Water and
takes place in weathering, it is an in-situ or air (oxygen and carbon dioxide) along with
on-site process. heat must be present to speed up all chemical
reactions. Over and above the carbon dioxide
Is this little motion which can occur
present in the air, decomposition of plants and
sometimes due to weathering synonymous
animals increases the quantity of carbon
with transportation? If not, why?
dioxide underground. These chemical
Weathering processes are conditioned by reactions on various minerals are very much
many complex geological, climatic, topographic similar to the chemical reactions in a laboratory.
and vegetative factors. Climate is of particular
importance. Not only weathering processes Solution
differ from climate to climate, but also the depth When something is dissolved in water or acids,
of the weathering mantle (Figure 6.2). the water or acid with dissolved contents is
GEOMORPHIC PROCESSES 49

called solution. This process involves removal Many clay minerals swell and contract during
of solids in solution and depends upon wetting and drying and a repetition of this
solubility of a mineral in water or weak acids. process results in cracking of overlying
On coming in contact with water many solids materials. Salts in pore spaces undergo rapid
disintegrate and mix up as suspension in and repeated hydration and help in rock
water. Soluble rock forming minerals like fracturing. The volume changes in minerals
nitrates, sulphates, and potassium etc. are due to hydration will also help in physical
affected by this process. So, these minerals are weathering through exfoliation and granular
easily leached out without leaving any residue disintegration.
in rainy climates and accumulate in dry
regions. Minerals like calcium carbonate and Oxidation and Reduction
calcium magnesium bicarbonate present in In weathering, oxidation means a combination
limestones are soluble in water containing of a mineral with oxygen to form oxides or
carbonic acid (formed with the addition of hydroxides. Oxidation occurs where there is
carbon dioxide in water), and are carried away ready access to the atmosphere and
in water as solution. Carbon dioxide produced oxygenated waters. The minerals most
by decaying organic matter along with soil commonly involved in this process are iron,
water greatly aids in this reaction. Common manganese, sulphur etc. In the process of
salt (sodium chloride) is also a rock forming oxidation rock breakdown occurs due to the
mineral and is susceptible to this process of disturbance caused by addition of oxygen. Red
solution. colour of iron upon oxidation turns to brown
or yellow. When oxidised minerals are placed
Carbonation in an environment where oxygen is absent,
reduction takes place. Such conditions exist
Carbonation is the reaction of carbonate and
usually below the water table, in areas of
bicarbonate with minerals and is a common
stagnant water and waterlogged ground. Red
process helping the breaking down of
colour of iron upon reduction turns to greenish
feldspars and carbonate minerals. Carbon or bluish grey.
dioxide from the atmosphere and soil air is These weathering processes are inter-
absorbed by water, to form carbonic acid that related. Hydration, carbonation and oxidation
acts as a weak acid. Calcium carbonates and go hand in hand and hasten the weathering
magnesium carbonates are dissolved in process.
carbonic acid and are removed in a solution
without leaving any residue resulting in cave
formation. Can we give iron rusting as an example
of oxidation? How essential is water in
Why are clay minerals easily erodible? chemical weathering processes? Can
chemical weathering processes dominate
in water scarce hot deserts?
Hydration
Hydration is the chemical addition of water.
Physical Weathering Processes
Minerals take up water and expand; this
expansion causes an increase in the volume of Physical or mechanical weathering processes
the material itself or rock. Calcium sulphate depend on some applied forces. The applied
takes in water and turns to gypsum, which is forces could be: (i) gravitational forces such as
more unstable than calcium sulphate. This overburden pressure, load and shearing stress;
process is reversible and long, continued (ii) expansion forces due to temperature
repetition of this process causes fatigue in the changes, crystal growth or animal activity;
rocks and may lead to their disintegration. (iii) water pressures controlled by wetting and
50 FUNDAMENTALS OF PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY

drying cycles. Many of these forces are applied temperatures, this internal movement among
both at the surface and within different earth the mineral grains of the superficial layers of
materials leading to rock fracture. Most of the rocks takes place regularly. This process is
physical weathering processes are caused by most effective in dry climates and high
thermal expansion and pressure release. These elevations where diurnal temperature changes
processes are small and slow but can cause are drastic. As has been mentioned earlier
great damage to the rocks because of though these movements are very small they
continued fatigue the rocks suffer due to make the rocks weak due to continued fatigue.
repetition of contraction and expansion. The surface layers of the rocks tend to expand
more than the rock at depth and this leads to
Unloading and Expansion the formation of stress within the rock resulting
in heaving and fracturing parallel to the
Removal of overlying rock load because of
surface. Due to differential heating and
continued erosion causes vertical pressure
resulting expansion and contraction of surface
release with the result that the upper layers of
layers and their subsequent exfoliation from
the rock expand producing disintegration of
the surface results in smooth rounded surfaces
rock masses. Fractures will develop roughly
in rocks. In rocks like granites, smooth
parallel to the ground surface. In areas of
surfaced and rounded small to big boulders
curved ground surface, arched fractures tend
called tors form due to such exfoliation.
to produce massive sheets or exfoliation slabs
of rock. Exfoliation sheets resulting from
What is the difference between exfoliation
expansion due to unloading and pressure domes and exfoliated tors?
release may measure hundreds or even
thousands of metres in horizontal extent. Large,
smooth rounded domes called exfoliation Freezing, Thawing and Frost Wedging
domes (Figure 6.3) result due to this process. Frost weathering occurs due to growth of ice
within pores and cracks of rocks during
repeated cycles of freezing and melting. This
process is most effective at high elevations in
mid-latitudes where freezing and melting is
often repeated. Glacial areas are subject to frost
wedging daily. In this process, the rate of
freezing is important. Rapid freezing of water
causes its sudden expansion and high pressure.
The resulting expansion affects joints, cracks
and small inter granular fractures to become
wider and wider till the rock breaks apart.

Figure 6.3 : A large exfoliation dome in granite rock Salt Weathering


near bhongir (Bhuvanagiri) town in Andhra Pradesh
Salts in rocks expand due to thermal action,
Temperature Changes and Expansion hydration and crystallisation. Many salts like
calcium, sodium, magnesium, potassium and
Various minerals in rocks possess their own barium have a tendency to expand. Expansion
limits of expansion and contraction. With rise of these salts depends on temperature and
in temperature, every mineral expands and their thermal properties. High temperature
pushes against its neighbour and as ranges between 30 and 50 oC of surface
temperature falls, a corresponding contraction temperatures in deserts favour such salt
takes place. Because of diurnal changes in the expansion. Salt crystals in near-surface pores
GEOMORPHIC PROCESSES 51

cause splitting of individual grains within


rocks, which eventually fall off. This process of
falling off of individual grains may result in
granular disintegration or granular foliation.
Salt crystallisation is most effective of all
salt-weathering processes. In areas with
alternating wetting and drying conditions salt
crystal growth is favoured and the neighbouring
grains are pushed aside. Sodium chloride and
gypsum crystals in desert areas heave up
overlying layers of materials and with the result
polygonal cracks develop all over the heaved
surface. With salt crystal growth, chalk breaks Fig.6.4 : Exfoliation (Flacking) and granular
down most readily, followed by limestone, disintegration
sandstone, shale, gneiss and granite etc. temperature changes. Exfoliation domes and
tors result due to unloading and thermal
BIOLOGICAL ACTIVITY AND WEATHERING expansion respectively.
Biological weathering is contribution to or
removal of minerals and ions from the SIGNIFICANCE OF WEATHERING
weathering environment and physical changes Weathering processes are responsible for
due to growth or movement of organisms. breaking down the rocks into smaller
Burrowing and wedging by organisms like fragments and preparing the way for formation
earthworms, termites, rodents etc., help in of not only regolith and soils, but also erosion
exposing the new surfaces to chemical attack and mass movements. Biomes and bio-
and assists in the penetration of moisture and diversity is basically a result of forests
air. Human beings by disturbing vegetation, (vegetation) and forests depend upon the depth
ploughing and cultivating soils, also help in of weathering mantles. Erosion cannot be
mixing and creating new contacts between air, significant if the rocks are not weathered. That
water and minerals in the earth materials. means, weathering aids mass wasting, erosion
Decaying plant and animal matter help in the and reduction of relief and changes in
production of humic, carbonic and other acids landforms are a consequence of erosion.
which enhance decay and solubility of some Weathering of rocks and deposits helps in the
elements. Algae utilise mineral nutrients for enrichment and concentrations of certain
growth and help in concentration of iron and valuable ores of iron, manganese, aluminium,
manganese oxides. Plant roots exert a copper etc., which are of great importance for
tremendous pressure on the earth materials the national economy. Weathering is an
mechanically breaking them apart. important process in the formation of soils.

SOME SPECIAL EFFECTS OF WEATHERING When rocks undergo weathering, some


materials are removed through chemical
This has already been explained under or physical leaching by groundwater and
physical weathering processes of unloading, thereby the concentration of remaining
thermal contraction and expansion and salt (valuable) materials increases. Without
weathering. Exfoliation is a result but not a such a weathering taking place, the
process. Flaking off of more or less curved concentration of the same valuable
sheets of shells from over rocks or bedrock material may not be sufficient and
results in smooth and rounded surfaces economically viable to exploit, process and
(Figure 6.4). Exfoliation can occur due to refine. This is what is called enrichment.
expansion and contraction induced by
52 FUNDAMENTALS OF PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY

MASS MOVEMENTS the three forms of movements. Figure 6.5 shows


the relationships among different types of mass
These movements transfer the mass of rock
movements, their relative rates of movement
debris down the slopes under the direct
and moisture limits.
influence of gravity. That means, air, water or
ice do not carry debris with them from place to
place but on the other hand the debris may
carry with it air, water or ice. The movements
of mass may range from slow to rapid,
affecting shallow to deep columns of materials
and include creep, flow, slide and fall. Gravity
exerts its force on all matter, both bedrock and
the products of weathering. So, weathering is
not a pre-requisite for mass movement though
it aids mass movements. Mass movements are
very active over weathered slopes rather than
over unweathered materials.
Mass movements are aided by gravity and
no geomorphic agent like running water,
glaciers, wind, waves and currents participate
in the process of mass movements. That means Figure 6.5 : Relationships among different types of
mass movements, their relative rates of movement
mass movements do not come under erosion and moisture limits (after Whitehead, 2001)
though there is a shift (aided by gravity) of
materials from one place to another. Materials Mass movements can be grouped under
over the slopes have their own resistance to three major classes: (i) slow movements;
disturbing forces and will yield only when force (ii) rapid movements; (iii) landslides.
is greater than the shearing resistance of the
materials. Weak unconsolidated materials, Slow Movements
thinly bedded rocks, faults, steeply dipping Creep is one type under this category which
beds, vertical cliffs or steep slopes, abundant can occur on moderately steep, soil covered
precipitation and torrential rains and scarcity slopes. Movement of materials is extremely
of vegetation etc., favour mass movements. slow and imperceptible except through
Several activating causes precede mass extended observation. Materials involved can
movements. They are : (i) removal of support be soil or rock debris. Have you ever seen fence
from below to materials above through natural posts, telephone poles lean downslope from
or artificial means; (ii) increase in gradient and their vertical position and in their linear
height of slopes; (iii) overloading through alignment? If you have, that is due to the creep
addition of materials naturally or by artificial effect. Depending upon the type of material
involved, several types of creep viz., soil creep,
filling; (iv) overloading due to heavy rainfall,
talus creep, rock creep, rock-glacier creep etc.,
saturation and lubrication of slope materials;
can be identified. Also included in this group
(v) removal of material or load from over the
is solifluction which involves slow downslope
original slope surfaces; (vi) occurrence of flowing soil mass or fine grained rock debris
earthquakes, explosions or machinery; saturated or lubricated with water. This process
(vii) excessive natural seepage; (viii) heavy is quite common in moist temperate areas
drawdown of water from lakes, reservoirs and where surface melting of deeply frozen ground
rivers leading to slow outflow of water from and long continued rain respectively, occur
under the slopes or river banks; (ix) indis- frequently. When the upper portions get
criminate removal of natural vegetation. saturated and when the lower parts are
Heave (heaving up of soils due to frost impervious to water percolation, flowing occurs
growth and other causes), flow and slide are in the upper parts.
GEOMORPHIC PROCESSES 53

Rapid Movements discontinuities in the rock, the degree of


weathering and the steepness of the slope.
These movements are mostly prevalent in
Depending upon the type of movement of
humid climatic regions and occur over gentle materials several types are identified in this
to steep slopes. Movement of water-saturated category.
clayey or silty earth materials down low-angle Slump is slipping of one or several units of
terraces or hillsides is known as earthflow. rock debris with a backward rotation with
Quite often, the materials slump making step- respect to the slope over which the movement
like terraces and leaving arcuate scarps at their takes place (Figure 6.6). Rapid rolling or sliding
heads and an accumulation bulge at the toe.
When slopes are steeper, even the bedrock
especially of soft sedimentary rocks like shale
or deeply weathered igneous rock may slide
downslope.
Another type in this category is mudflow.
In the absence of vegetation cover and with
heavy rainfall, thick layers of weathered
materials get saturated with water and either
slowly or rapidly flow down along definite
channels. It looks like a stream of mud within
a valley. When the mudflows emerge out of
Figure 6.6 : Slumping of debris with backward rotation
channels onto the piedmont or plains, they can
be very destructive engulfing roads, bridges
of earth debris without backward rotation of
and houses. Mudflows occur frequently on the
mass is known as debris slide. Debris fall is
slopes of erupting or recently erupted volcanoes.
nearly a free fall of earth debris from a vertical
Volcanic ash, dust and other fragments turn
or overhanging face. Sliding of individual rock
into mud due to heavy rains and flow down as
masses down bedding, joint or fault surfaces
tongues or streams of mud causing great
is rockslide. Over steep slopes, rock sliding is
destruction to human habitations.
very fast and destructive. Figure 6.7 shows
A third type is the debris avalanche, which
landslide scars over steep slopes. Slides occur
is more characteristic of humid regions with
as planar failures along discontinuities like
or without vegetation cover and occurs in
bedding planes that dip steeply. Rock fall is
narrow tracks on steep slopes. This debris
free falling of rock blocks over any steep slope
avalanche can be much faster than the
keeping itself away from the slope. Rock falls
mudflow. Debris avalanche is similar to snow
occur from the superficial layers of the rock
avalanche.

In Andes mountains of South America


and the Rockies mountains of North
America, there are a few volcanoes which
erupted during the last decade and very
devastating mudflows occurred down
their slopes during eruption as well as
after eruption.

Landslides
These are known as relatively rapid and
perceptible movements. The materials involved
are relatively dry. The size and shape of the Figure 6.7 : Landslide scars in Shiwalik Himalayan ranges
detached mass depends on the nature of near river Sarada at India-Nepal border, Uttar Pradesh
54 FUNDAMENTALS OF PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY

face, an occurrence that distinguishes it from erosion it is not a pre-condition for erosion to
rockslide which affects materials up to a take place. Weathering, mass-wasting and
substantial depth. erosion are degradational processes. It is
erosion that is largely responsible for
Between mass wasting and mass continuous changes that the earth’s surface is
movements, which term do you feel is undergoing. As indicated in Figure 6.1,
most appropriate? Why? Can solifluction denudational processes like erosion and
be included under rapid flow movements? transportation are controlled by kinetic energy.
Why it can be and can’t be? The erosion and transportation of earth
materials is brought about by wind, running
water, glaciers, waves and ground water. Of
In our country, debris avalanche and
these the first three agents are controlled by
landslides occur very frequently in the
climatic conditions.
Himalayas. There are many reasons for
this. One, the Himalayas are tectonically
Can you compare the three climatically
active. They are mostly made up of
controlled agents?
sedimentary rocks and unconsolidated
and semi-consolidated deposits. The
slopes are very steep. Compared to the They represent three states of matter —
Himalayas, the Nilgiris bordering gaseous (wind), liquid (running water) and
Tamilnadu, Karnataka, Kerala and the solid (glacier) respectively. The erosion can be
Western Ghats along the west coast are defined as “application of the kinetic energy
relatively tectonically stable and are associated with the agent to the surface of the
mostly made up of very hard rocks; but, land along which it moves”. Kinetic energy is
still, debris avalanches and landslides computed as KE = 1/2 mv2 where ‘m’ is the mass
occur though not as frequently as in the and ‘v’ is the velocity. Hence the energy
Himalayas, in these hills. Why? Many available to perform work will depend on the
slopes are steeper with almost vertical mass of the material and the velocity with
cliffs and escarpments in the Western
which it is moving. Obviously then you will find
Ghats and Nilgiris. Mechanical weathering
that though the glaciers move at very low
due to temperature changes and ranges
is pronounced. They receive heavy velocities due to tremendous mass are more
amounts of rainfall over short periods. effective as the agents of erosion and wind,
So, there is almost direct rock fall quite being in gaseous state, are less effective.
frequently in these places along with The work of the other two agents of erosion-
landslides and debris avalanches. waves and ground water is not controlled by
climate. In case of waves it is the location along
the interface of litho and hydro sphere —
EROSION AND DEPOSITION coastal region — that will determine the work
of waves, whereas the work of ground water is
Erosion involves acquisition and transportation determined more by the lithological character
of rock debris. When massive rocks break into of the region. If the rocks are permeable and
smaller fragments through weathering and soluble and water is available only then karst
any other process, erosional geomorphic topography develops. In the next chapter we
agents like running water, groundwater, shall be dealing with the landforms produced
glaciers, wind and waves remove and by each of the agents of erosion.
transport it to other places depending upon Deposition is a consequence of erosion. The
the dynamics of each of these agents. Abrasion erosional agents loose their velocity and hence
by rock debris carried by these geomorphic energy on gentler slopes and the materials
agents also aids greatly in erosion. By erosion, carried by them start to settle themselves. In
relief degrades, i.e., the landscape is worn other words, deposition is not actually the work
down. That means, though weathering aids of any agent. The coarser materials get
GEOMORPHIC PROCESSES 55

deposited first and finer ones later. By of the weathered material) which is the basic
deposition depressions get filled up. The same input for soil to form. First, the weathered
erosional agents viz., running water, glaciers, material or transported deposits are colonised
wind, waves and groundwater act as by bacteria and other inferior plant bodies like
aggradational or depositional agents also. mosses and lichens. Also, several minor
What happens to the surface of the earth organisms may take shelter within the mantle
due to erosion and deposition is elaborated in and deposits. The dead remains of organisms
the next chapter on landforms and their and plants help in humus accumulation. Minor
evolution. grasses and ferns may grow; later, bushes and
trees will start growing through seeds brought
There is a shift of materials in mass in by birds and wind. Plant roots penetrate
movements as well as in erosion from one down, burrowing animals bring up particles,
place to the other. So, why can’t both be mass of material becomes porous and sponge-
treated as one and the same? Can there
like with a capacity to retain water and to permit
be appreciable erosion without rocks
the passage of air and finally a mature soil, a
undergoing weathering?
complex mixture of mineral and organic
products forms.
SOIL FORMATION
Is weathering solely responsible for soil
Soil and Soil Contents formation? If not, why?

You see plants growing in soils. You play in


the ground and come into contact with soil. Pedology is soil science. A pedologist is a
You touch and feel soil and soil your clothes soil-scientist.
while playing. Can you describe it?
A pedologist who studies soils defines soil
as a collection of natural bodies on the earth’s Soil-forming Factors
surface containing living matter and
supporting or capable of supporting plants. Five basic factors control the formation of soils:
Soil is a dynamic medium in which many (i) parent material; (ii) topography; (iii) climate;
chemical, physical and biological activities go (iv) biological activity; (v) time. In fact soil
on constantly. Soil is a result of decay, it is also forming factors act in union and affect the
the medium for growth. It is a changing and action of one another.
developing body. It has many characteristics
that fluctuate with the seasons. It may be Parent Material
alternatively cold and warm or dry and moist.
Parent material is a passive control factor in
Biological activity is slowed or stopped if the
soil becomes too cold or too dry. Organic matter soil formation. Parent materials can be any in-
increases when leaves fall or grasses die. The situ or on-site weathered rock debris (residual
soil chemistry, the amount of organic matter, soils) or transported deposits (transported
the soil flora and fauna, the temperature and soils). Soil formation depends upon the texture
the moisture, all change with the seasons as (sizes of debris) and structure (disposition of
well as with more extended periods of time. individual grains/particles of debris) as well
That means, soil becomes adjusted to as the mineral and chemical composition of the
conditions of climate, landform and vegetation rock debris/deposits.
and will change internally when these Nature and rate of weathering and depth of
controlling conditions change. weathering mantle are important consideration
under parent materials. There may be
Process of Soil Formation differences in soil over similar bedrock and
dissimilar bedrocks may have similar soils
Soil formation or pedogenesis depends first on above them. But when soils are very young
weathering. It is this weathering mantle (depth and have not matured these show strong links
56 FUNDAMENTALS OF PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY

with the type of parent rock. Also, in case of climates and in areas with intermediate
some limestone areas, where the weathering precipitation conditions, calcium carbonate
processes are specific and peculiar, soils will nodules (kanker) are formed.
show clear relation with the parent rock. Temperature acts in two ways — increasing
or reducing chemical and biological activity.
Topography Chemical activity is increased in higher
Topography like parent materials is another temperatures, reduced in cooler temperatures
passive control factor. The influence of (with an exception of carbonation) and stops
topography is felt through the amount of in freezing conditions. That is why, tropical soils
exposure of a surface covered by parent with higher temperatures show deeper profiles
materials to sunlight and the amount of and in the frozen tundra regions soils contain
surface and sub-surface drainage over and largely mechanically broken materials.
through the parent materials. Soils will be thin Biological Activity
on steep slopes and thick over flat upland
areas. Over gentle slopes where erosion is slow The vegetative cover and organisms that occupy
and percolation of water is good, soil formation the parent materials from the beginning and also
is very favourable. Soils over flat areas may at later stages help in adding organic matter,
develop a thick layer of clay with good moisture retention, nitrogen etc. Dead plants
accumulation of organic matter giving the soil provide humus, the finely divided organic matter
dark colour. In middle latitudes, the south of the soil. Some organic acids which form
facing slopes exposed to sunlight have different during humification aid in decomposing the
conditions of vegetation and soils and the north minerals of the soil parent materials.
facing slopes with cool, moist conditions have Intensity of bacterial activity shows up
some other soils and vegetation. differences between soils of cold and warm
climates. Humus accumulates in cold climates
Climate as bacterial growth is slow. With undecomposed
Climate is an important active factor in soil organic matter because of low bacterial activity,
formation. The climatic elements involved in soil layers of peat develop in sub-arctic and tundra
development are : (i) moisture in terms of its climates. In humid tropical and equatorial
intensity, frequency and duration of climates, bacterial growth and action is intense
precipitation - evaporation and humidity; and dead vegetation is rapidly oxidised leaving
(ii) temperature in terms of seasonal and very low humus content in the soil. Further,
diurnal variations. bacteria and other soil organisms take gaseous
Precipitation gives soil its moisture content nitrogen from the air and convert it into a
which makes the chemical and biological chemical form that can be used by plants. This
activities possible. Excess of water helps in the process is known as nitrogen fixation.
downward transportation of soil components Rhizobium, a type of bacteria, lives in the root
through the soil (eluviation) and deposits the nodules of leguminous plants and fixes nitrogen
same down below (illuviation). In climates like beneficial to the host plant. The influence of large
wet equatorial rainy areas with high rainfall, animals like ants, termites, earthworms, rodents
not only calcium, sodium, magnesium, etc., is mechanical, but, it is nevertheless
potassium etc. but also a major part of silica is important in soil formation as they rework the
removed from the soil. Removal of silica from soil up and down. In case of earthworms, as
the soil is known as desilication. In dry climates, they feed on soil, the texture and chemistry of
because of high temperature, evaporation the soil that comes out of their body changes.
exceeds precipitation and hence ground water
is brought up to the surface by capillary action Time
and in the process the water evaporates leaving Time is the third important controlling factor
behind salts in the soil. Such salts form into a in soil formation. The length of time the soil
crust in the soil known as hardpans. In tropical forming processes operate, determines
GEOMORPHIC PROCESSES 57

maturation of soils and profile development. A


Is it necessary to separate the process of
soil becomes mature when all soil-forming
soil formation and the soil forming control processes act for a sufficiently long time
factors? developing a profile. Soils developing from
recently deposited alluvium or glacial till are
Why are time, topography and parent
considered young and they exhibit no horizons
material considered as passive control or only poorly developed horizons. No specific
factors in soil formation? length of time in absolute terms can be fixed
for soils to develop and mature.

EXERCISES

1. Multiple choice questions.


(i) Which one of the following processes is a gradational process?
(a) Deposition (c) Volcanism
(b) Diastrophism (d) Erosion
(ii) Which one of the following materials is affected by hydration process?
(a) Granite (c) Quartz
(b) Clay (d) Salts
(iii) Debris avalanche can be included in the category of:
(a) Landslides (c) Rapid flow mass movements
(b) Slow flow mass movements (d) Subsidence

2. Answer the following questions in about 30 words.


(i) It is weathering that is responsible for bio-diversity on the earth. How?
(ii) What are mass movements that are real rapid and perceptible? List.
(iii) What are the various mobile and mighty exogenic geomorphic agents and
what is the prime job they perform?
(iv) Is weathering essential as a pre-requisite in the formation of soils? Why?

3. Answer the following questions in about 150 words.


(i) “Our earth is a playfield for two opposing groups of geomorphic processes.”
Discuss.
(ii) Exogenic geomorphic processes derive their ultimate energy from the sun’s
heat. Explain.
(iii) Are physical and chemical weathering processes independent of each
other? If not, why? Explain with examples.
(iv) How do you distinguish between the process of soil formation and soil-
forming factors? What is the role of climate and biological activity as two
important control factors in the formation of soils?

Project Work
Depending upon the topography and materials around you, observe and record
climate, possible weathering process and soil contents and characteristics.