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Erosion and Landscape

Evolution

How Do We Know Rivers Cut


Their Valleys?
John Playfair, 1800
Tributary valleys almost always join
the main valley at exactly the same
elevation, even though the valleys
may begin many miles apart. This is
very unlikely unless the rivers have
cut the valleys.
How Rivers Widen Valleys

Constructive and Destructive


Processes
Highlands

Erosion Dominates
Destructive Processes
History not Preserved
Little Geological Record

Transport
Lowlands, Coastal Plain, Lakes and Seas

Deposition Dominates
Constructive Processes
History Preserved
Good Geological Record

Stream Abrasion, Marathon


County

Stream Potholes, Marathon


County

Mega-Potholes, St. Croix


Valley

Anatomy
of a
Drainage
System

The
Continental
Divide,
Colorado

Stream Order

The River That Did This.

Looks Like This Near Its


Source

The Ideal Stream Cycle


(W.M. Davis, 1880)
Not a Literal Time
Sequence
Youth
Maturity
Old Age
Rejuvenation

Youth

V-Shaped Valley
Rapids
Waterfalls
No Flood Plain
Drainage
Divides Broad
and Flat,
Undissected by
Erosion
Valley Being
Deepened
General
Agreement on
this stage, lots
of examples

Youthful Landscape, Arizona

Maturity
(Early)

V-Shaped Valley
Beginnings of Flood
Plain
Sand and Gravel
Bars
Sharp Divides
Relief Reaches
Maximum
Valleys stop
deepening
General Agreement
on this stage, lots
of examples

Young-Mature Landscape, California

Mature Landscape,
Kentucky

Maturity
(Late)

Valley has flat


bottom
Narrow Flood Plain
Divides begin to
round off
Relief diminishes
Sediment builds
up, flood plain
widens
River begins to
meander
Many geologists
believe slopes
stay steep but
simply retreat.

Old Mature Landscape, Tennessee

Old
Age

Land worn to
nearly flat surface
(peneplain)
Resistant rocks
remain as
erosional
remnants
(monadnocks)
Rivers meander
across extremely
wide, flat flood
plains

Monadnock, Colorado

Monadnocks, Maine

Old Age Landscape, South


America

The Onset of Old Age?


Indiana

Old Age? Or Maybe Not: Nebraska

Old Age? No! (Wisconsin)

Rejuvenation
Some change causes stream to
speed up and cut deeper.
Uplift of Land
Lowering of Sea Level
Greater stream flow
Stream valley takes on youthful
characteristics but retains features of
older stages as well.
Can happen at any point in the cycle.

Rejuvenation, Utah

Rejuvenation of an old-age
landscape

Rejuvenation, San Juan


River, Utah

Rejuvenation of an early
mature landscape

Machu Pichu, Peru

Machu Pichu, Peru

Why the Stream Cycle Doesn't


Explain Everything
Rises and falls in sea level during the ice ages
rejuvenated most landscapes to some extent.
Climate changes mean that mass-wasting
processes in temperate regions may have
undergone radical changes repeatedly in the
last few million years.
In places where conditions have remained
uniform for long times, like the stable
interiors of Africa, Australia and South
America, the ideal stream cycle seems to
work best.

Sea Level and River Profile

Superposed (Antecedent)
Drainage
Streams Cut Right Through High
Topography

Rejuvenat
ed
Peneplain:
the
Northeaste
rn US

Rejuvenate
d
Peneplain

Superpos
ed
Drainage,
Delaware
Water
Gap

Water Gap, Pennsylvania

Cumberland Mountains,
Virginia

Cumberland Gap

Devils Gap, Wyoming

Approach to Devils Gap

Rivers
and
Crustal
Movemen
t,
California

Tectonic Uplift, Colorado

Tectonic Uplift, Grand Canyon

The
Ultimate
Anteced
ent
Drainage
, IndiaNepalTibet

Drainage Diversion

The
Huang He:
Chinas
Sorrow
1887: 2,000,000
dead
1931: 3,700,000
dead
1938: The Chinese
dynamite levees to
slow the Japanese;
half a million
Chinese died.

River Diversions in the Caspian


Region

Stream
Piracy:
Northea
st
England

Why is the Danube Blue?

Piracy on the Danube

Flood, Ecuador

Flood, Green Bay, June


1990

Flood, Green Bay, June 1990

Building Smart in a Flood


Plain

Channeled Scablands,
Washington

Fluid Flow is ScaleInvariant

Erosion of Bedrock River


Beds

Scabland Terrain, Oregon

Erosion
of Soft
River
Beds

Mega-Gravel Bar,
Washington

MegaFlood
Deposits,
Washingto
n

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