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Module 18

Rivers System

Global Distribution of Water

The Hydrologic Cycle

Stream Profiles Cross Sections of Youthful and mature Streams

Drainage Basins and Divides


Drainage basin the total area drained by a stream and its tributaries Divide the high ground separating one drainage basin from another

North American Continental Divides

Drainage Basin of the Mississippi River, Continental Divides

Stream Drainage Patterns

Form on uniformly erodible rock The most common

Form on rectangularly fractured rock

Form on mountains, volcanoes, and domes

Form in regions of folded shale and sandstone

Types of Sediment Loads Carried by Streams: Dissolved load, Suspended load, Bed load

Stream Capacity and Competence Capacity - refers to the total amount of sediment a stream is able to transport
The greater the discharge (amount of water flowing in a stream), the greater the streams capacity

Competence - refers to the maximum size of particles a stream can carry


The greater the velocity, the greater the competence

Base Level
A base level is a level at which no erosion can occur A stream reaches a local base level where it flows over erosionally resistant rock A stream also reaches a local base level where it flows into a pond, lake, or the ocean because the gradient is 0. Sea level is the ultimate base level A base level can be below sea level (e.g., Death Valley)

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Local Base Levels

Effect of Gradient on Stream Velocity

Effect of Channel Characteristics on Stream Velocity

Effect of Channel Characteristics on Stream Velocity

Effect of Gradient and Channel Clutter on Stream Velocity

Effect of Channel Characteristics on Stream Velocity

Effect of Channel Characteristics on Stream Velocity


Stream velocity is greatest in the center of the channel along straight stretches Stream velocity is greatest along the outside of a curve along curved sections

Regions of Maximum Stream Velocity

Types of Stream Erosion Downcutting: deepens the channel Headward erosion: lengthens the channel Lateral erosion: widens the channel and flood plain

Downcutting

Headward Erosion

Lateral Erosion

Lateral Erosion yields a wide floodplain and a meander belt

Characteristics of a Youthful Stream


Relatively steep gradient Narrow V-shaped valley No floodplain Relatively straight channel Rapids and/or waterfalls Rocky channel filled with pebbles, cobbles, and/or boulders

Characteristics of a Mature Stream


Low gradient Wide floodplain Meanders Point bars Cut banks Natural Levees Oxbow lakes Meander scars Back swamps Yazoo tributaries Stream terraces

Youthful or mature?

Youthful or mature?

Formation of Depositional and Erosional Features


The greater a streams discharge (volume of water per cross sectional area)
the faster it is flowing the greater its energy the greater its capacity (amount of sediment it can carry) the greater its competence (size of sediment grains it can carry)

Where a stream slows down, due to


decreased gradient, decreased inflow, overflowing its banks, or obstructions in its channel

it loses energy and therefore deposits its coarser suspended load (sand and silt) as bars or natural levees

Formation of Depositional and Erosional Features


The suspended load mud - a mixture of clay and silt is deposited only under low energy conditions such as on a lake bottom or flood plain

In Summary
Where the current is fast, energy is high, erosion occurs Where the current is slow, energy is low, deposition occurs

Formation of Point Bars and Cut Banks

A Meander Loop on the Colorado River

Formation of Point Bars and Cut Banks

Deposition of Natural Levees

Meander Cutoff Oxbow Lake

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Stream Terraces:
Products of Downcutting, flooding, and lateral Erosion

Stream Terraces

Alluvial Fans
Are fan-shaped depositional features formed by intermittently flowing streams They form at the base of a hill or mountain where the gradient suddenly flattens Alluvial fans commonly form where steep-gradient gullies and canyons dump into low-gradient ditches, valleys, or deserts The sudden decrease in gradient drastically decreases the streams energy, competence Which, in turn, causes the stream to drop its bed load nearest the hill suspended load farthest away, in the toe of the fan

Alluvial Fan in Death Valley

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Braided Streams
Are continuously-flowing, sediment-overloaded streams that flow in networks of interconnected rivulets around numerous channel bars They form where steep-gradient gullies and canyons dump into low-gradient ditches, valleys, or plains They also form down hill of melting glaciers, in glacial valleys and on their outwash plains The sudden decrease in gradient drastically decreases the streams energy, competence Which, in turn, causes the stream to become sedimentoverloaded and drop its bed load and suspended load as channel bars

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Channel bars

Braided Stream

Deltas
Are fan-shaped depositional features formed at the mouth of a stream where it flows into a large body of relatively still water, such as a lake or ocean Thus, the stream has reached a base level, where the stream suddenly loses energy and competence because the gradient is flat (horizontal) The stream diverges into small, shifting channels, distributaries, that carry sediment away from the main channel and distribute it over the surface of the delta The topset beds and bottomset beds deposited in a delta are subhorizontal The foreset beds, deposited where the water suddenly deepens, dip shallowly to steeply seaward

Features of a Delta

The Mississippi Delta

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Evolution of the Mississippi Delta

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Floods
Floods are the most common and most destructive geologic hazard Floods result from naturally occurring and human-induced factors Causes of flooding include
heavy rains rapid snow melt dam failure topography surface conditions

Big Thompson Canyon Flash Flood (1976) and Fort Collins Flash Flood (1997)

Devastation caused by the Big Thompson Canyon Flash Flood, 1976

Devastation caused by the Fort Collins Flash Flood, 1997

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Flood Control
Engineering efforts include building artificial levees building flood-control dams clearing and straightening channels Good floodplain management