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Principles of Physical Geography

The Processes that Shape the Land


Landforms Made by Running Water Fluvial Processes in Arid Climate Regions Landforms Made by Waves & Wind

Landforms Made by Running Water

Fluvial Processes Most of the worlds surface has been shaped by running water fluvial processes. Running water is the most important of the processes of denudation and erosion. In some places other processes ocean waves, wind, or moving glacial ice may be more important than running water, but overall, running water is the most important factor in shaping the land. Erosional & Depositional Landforms All the various agents of denudation erode, transport & deposit, transforming initial landforms into sequential landforms. Landforms created by erosion are called erosional landforms. Landforms created by deposition are called depositional landforms.

2007 Alan Rice Osborn

Geography Department, SDSU

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Principles of Physical Geography

Slope Erosion Overland flow runoff that is not in a channel usually erodes slopes very gradually. Slope erosion can be accelerated if: There is little vegetation cover (either naturally or because people have removed it). The slope is poorly consolidated. Slope erosion can produce small channels (rills) that can merge to form large channels (gullies).
Source: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/sea/pubs/95-107/under01.html

Slope Erosion in an Arid Environment

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Note the rills and gullies that have formed in the soft, easily eroded material.
Source: http://www.nps.gov/badl/exp/home.htm

Soil Erosion: Global Scale

Source: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/worldsoils/mapindx/erosh2o.html

Colluvium & Alluvium Soil that is transported by overland flow (and mass wasting) is eventually deposited at the base of slope in a layer of colluvium.
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Principles of Physical Geography

If sediment is transported by a stream (rather than just by overland flow) it may eventually be deposited as a layer of alluvium. The Work of Streams Streams shape the earths surface by doing three things EROSION removing material from the sides and bottom of the stream channel TRANSPORTATION moving material, in solution, suspension, or along the bottom of the channel DEPOSITION depositing transported material wherever a stream empties. Stream Erosion Streams erode their sides and bottom in three ways HYDRAULIC ACTION o Hydraulic action is the force of running water. By itself, hydraulic action is capable of eroding large amounts of material from the sides and bed of a stream. ABRASION o Streams that transport lots of solid material can wear away (sandpapering) the sides and bottom of their channel (well get to transportation in a moment). CORROSION (or DISSOLVING) o Streams can also corrode dissolve away the sides and bottoms of their channels. Stream Transportation This is a little complicated! All the material a stream transports is the stream load All the solid material is the solid load o The solid load is made up of Suspended load (all the fine material that floats), and Bed load (all the material that rolls or bounces along the stream bed). In addition to solid material, theres the dissolved load all that material the stream dissolved. So, to sum it up: Stream Load = Solid Load + Dissolved Load How much material a stream can transport (usually measured in metric tons) is the stream capacity and capacity depends mostly on velocity.

2007 Alan Rice Osborn

Geography Department, SDSU

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Principles of Physical Geography

Stream Capacity A streams capacity is a measure of its ability to transport solid material. Capacity is usually given in tons/day. Capacity varies with velocity faster streams have greater capacity. Velocity has a tremendous influence on capacity double the speed of a river, and capacity increases by the third or fourth power (x3 or x4) in other words, a small stream can suddenly be able to move a lot. Stream Gradation Streams modify their environment they wear down steep hills, widen their banks, transport tons of material every day. Eventually, the gradient the steepness of a stream becomes adjusted gradual, instead of steep or graded. Stream Piracy In stream piracy (or stream capture), part of one drainage system is diverted into another. This can happen through several different processes, and results in distinctive landforms, including capture elbows and wind gaps.
Source: http://www2.nature.nps.gov/geology/usgsnps/noca/sb16river.html

Responding to Changes Graded streams are in balance with their environment. If the environment changes, the stream landscape changes as the stream tries to get back into balance.
Source: http://www2.nature.nps.gov/geology/usgsnps/noca/sb16river.html

Aggradation & Alluvial Terraces If the solid load increases, then a streams capacity wont be enough to transport all the incoming material. The stream bed will rise aggradation and the stream becomes braided. If the solid load then decreases, a new stream channel will be created, cutting down through the layers of alluvium degradation leaving alluvial terraces wherever obstructions prevent the stream from carrying material away.

2007 Alan Rice Osborn

Geography Department, SDSU

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Principles of Physical Geography

Alluvial Rivers Alluvial rivers (sometimes called mature rivers) are large rivers with very low gradients, flowing across a large floodplain of alluvium. Typical landforms of an alluvial river include Bluffs Natural levees Meanders, cutoffs, ox-bow lakes Federal Levees in the Mississippi Valley The Federal Government builds levees ("artificial levees") along the main stem of the Mississippi River, and along its major tributaries. The levee system in this area is 2,203 miles long. Of that, 1,607 miles lie along the Mississippi River itself and 596 miles lie along the south banks of the Arkansas and Red rivers.
Source: http://www.mvn.usace.army.mil/pao/bro/mrc_map.gif

Rising Artificial Levees Levees keep floodwaters from flowing outside the river bed. When the flood is over, some of the sediment the river was carrying will be left behind in the river bed. Over time, it becomes necessary to keep raising the height of the levees to keep up with the rising river bed. Meanders Meanders are characteristic of mature (graded) streams. The exact mechanics of meanders is still not completely understood, but the process is fairly simple: As soon as a bend or curve starts to form in a stream, the water moves faster on the outside of the bend, and slower on the inside of the bend. The outside of the bend erodes quickly, and the eroded material is deposited on the inside bend. Over time the bends in the stream get more Mississippi River meanders & oxbows and more extreme. When a flood comes, the river cuts off the meander. Sediment blocks off the bypassed meander, and a curved, freshwater oxbow lake is created.
Source: http://www.nps.gov/miss/features/misshist/intro.html

2007 Alan Rice Osborn

Geography Department, SDSU

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Principles of Physical Geography

Entrenched Meanders

Entrenched meander at "the gooseneck" on the Colorado River.


Source: http://www.ut.blm.gov/wilderness/wrpt/wrptsegooseneck.html

But rivers cant cut meanders in solid rock! How can this be? Answer: Uplift. The Geographic Cycle Landscapes change over time. Just how they evolve is something that people have been arguing over for at least two hundred years. William Morris Davis (1850-1934), in 1889 proposed a theory of landscape change he called the cycle of erosion. The Cycle of Erosion Daviss idea is fairly simple: Landforms move through a predictable series of changes. These stages in the process are labeled youth, maturity, and old age. Landscapes can also be rejuvenated by uplift. Other Concepts of Landscape Change? Daviss ideas have not exactly been discarded, but there are problems: It assumes an incredibly stable landscape; It does not take into account landscape changes produced by plate tectonics; It assumes erosion takes place at the same rate in all situations. Alternatives, such as equilibrium theory have helped to explain landforms in new ways.

2007 Alan Rice Osborn

Geography Department, SDSU

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Principles of Physical Geography

Fluvial Processes in Arid Climate Regions

Fluvial Processes Yes, arid lands are, by definition, lacking in water. Yes, it does sound odd to talk about how water shapes a place that doesnt have much water. But the fact is, water is the most important shaper of arid lands and landforms. Slope Erosion As weve already seen, slope erosion (erosion by overland flow by running water that is not in a channel) can be very significant in areas with Little vegetation Loosely consolidated surfaces This is the case in many desert areas, and many desert areas have extensive badlands. Source: http://gears.tucson.ars.ag.gov/media/gallery/badlands.jpg Streams in Arid Areas Streams erode, transport and deposit In arid lands: Streams tend to be ephemeral (they have very short active periods). Streams feed groundwater when they are flowing (in more humid environments, groundwater supplies stream baseflow). Aggradation and braided streams are common. Streams are short, and may end in alluvial deposits or dry lakes. Streams are fed mostly by runoff, and are prone to flash flooding.
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Principles of Physical Geography

Ephemeral Streams Ephemeral desert streams (called washes, arroyos, wadis, etc.) are frequently braided, and carry enormous quantities of debris from mountainous areas into desert basins.
Source: http://www.mojavedata.gov/mdep/geomorphic/classifications/wash.html

Flash Flooding Many desert surfaces are impermeable, which means little infiltration, and lots of runoff. Lack of vegetation also means rapid runoff. The result flash flooding is common in desert regions. Making Alluvial Fans Streams transport enormous amounts of eroded material from mountainous areas into desert lowlands. When a stream exits from a narrow canyon, the velocity of the stream drops; with the drop in speed, the ability of the stream to transport material also drops, so material is deposited at the mouth of the canyon.
Source: http://www.mojavedata.gov/mdep/geomorphic/classifications/wash.html

Playas Dry lakes playas are common in many desert areas. Many are remnants of pluvial lakes lakes that were large and permanent when the climate was wetter. Playas often fill with runoff, making ephemeral lakes.
Source: http://www.mojavedata.gov/mdep/geomorphic/classifications/playa.html

2007 Alan Rice Osborn

Geography Department, SDSU

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Principles of Physical Geography

Landscapes of Mountainous Deserts Areas, which have been recently uplifted, such as the basin and range region of the United States, include an array of distinctive and characteristic landforms. Evolution of Desert Landscapes Few desert drainage systems actually reach the sea. Most are interior drainage basins. In theory, over time, mountains will be eroded, and what will be left will be a peneplain (almost a plain), with just a few mountain remnants. Pediments At the base of mountains in desert areas an eroded area of exposed sloping bedrock and debris a pediment may be found. The formation of pediments is not completely understood. In many areas pediments are covered by alluvial fans.

Landforms Made by Waves & Wind

Coastal Places & Processes SHORELINE: the shifting line of contact between water and land. COASTLINE: zone in which coastal processes operate or have a strong influence. LITTORAL: pertaining to the coast or shore. Coastal Definitions BEACH: a thick wedge-shaped deposit of sand (well, usually). BAY: a body of water sheltered by the coast from strong wave action. ESTUARY: a place where a river empties into a bay. COASTAL WATER BODIES: arm, bight, cove, fiord, firth, gulf, inlet, lagoon, narrows, sound, strait.

2007 Alan Rice Osborn

Geography Department, SDSU

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Principles of Physical Geography

Waves Wherever a large body of water and the land come in contact, the land is shaped by the energy of wave action. Although waves can be made by lots of things (earthquakes, landslides, volcanoes), most waves are made by the wind moving across the surface of the water.
Source: http://pao.cnmoc.navy.mil/educate/neptune/quest/wavetide/BIRTH.HTM

Wave Energy A wave IS NOT A FLOW OF WATER! A wave is a flow of energy. For example, water in waves created in the Gulf of Alaska does not flow to San Diego the energy does. Classifying Waves Waves can be classified based on: WAVE HEIGHT (trough to crest) WAVE LENGTH (crest to crest) WAVE PERIOD (how many waves per unit of time) Source: http://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/educate/waves.shtml Wave Heights Wave height (and wave period, too) depend on WIND VELOCITY (how fast the wind blows) WIND DURATION (how long the wind blows) FETCH (the distance over which the wind blows) RULE OF THUMB wave height (ft) ~ wind speed (mph) Fetch & Wave Height Note that average wave height is indicated on this map by colors red indicates an average wave height of 5 meters (16 feet), white 6 meters (about 20 feet) or more.
Source: http://topex-www.jpl.nasa.gov/discover/image-gallery/gifs/gallery-4/P41497.jpg

2007 Alan Rice Osborn

Geography Department, SDSU

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Principles of Physical Geography

Wave Height: WMO Codes

Wave Heights: Extremes The smallest waves (less than .68 inches) (1.7 cm) are called capillary waves. The largest mid-ocean wave ever was reported on February 7, 1933 by the USS Ramapo on a voyage from Manila to San Diego. It was estimated to be 112 feet (34 meters) high. On September 11, 1995 the Queen Elizabeth II was struck by a wave more than 95 feet (29 meters) high. So-called rogue waves can appear without warning, without a storm. The mechanisms that create them are not fully understood. For more information see: http://www.sciencenews.org/pages/sn_arch/11_23_96/fob2.htm
http://www.math.uio.no/~karstent/waves/index_en.html http://www.enviroliteracy.org/article.php/257.html

Rogue Waves Until recently, oceanographers didnt believe freak waves existed or if they did, that they were very rare. Evidence now suggests that theyre very real 200 supertankers and cargo ships are now believed to have been sunk during the last 20 years by rogue waves. Satellite data now indicates that midocean waves are disturbingly common analysis of just three weeks global data found at least 10 waves over 80 feet high.

Source: http://www.esa.int/esaCP/SEMOKQL26WD_index_1.html#subhead5

2007 Alan Rice Osborn

Geography Department, SDSU

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Principles of Physical Geography

Breakers When a wave trough touches bottom, the wave: Slows down; Friction impedes the base; The back of the wave (the crest) overtakes the front of the wave; Water is forced into a peak; The peak curves forward; The peak breaks, dissolving into a mass of falling water and foam.
To experiment with waves, try the National Geographic Wave Simulator: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/volvooceanrace/interactives/waves/index.html

Waves & Coastlines What happens to land when waves strike the shore depends on what the shore is made of. If the material is soft, then there will be a lot of erosion, and a steep marine scarp will be created. Coastlines of Resistant Rock Where the coastline is made of hard, resistant rock, a number of characteristic landforms will be created: Arches Anacapa Island, California Stacks ("sea stacks") Sea Caves Wave cut notch (this is where most erosion takes place) Abrasion Platforms Raised Abrasion Platform, Sunset Cliffs, San Diego, California As the rocky shoreline is eroded away, a flat planed off area is created just offshore the abrasion platform Abrasion platforms can become exposed if sea level drops or the land rises Beaches Cobble beach, Block Island, The word beach can mean: Rhode Island shore pebbles; the shore of a body of water covered by sand, gravel, or larger rock fragments; a thick wedge-shaped deposit of sand. Beaches are in constant motion, day to day, season to season, year to year, but are usually stable in the long term.
Source: http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/coastline/index.html

2007 Alan Rice Osborn

Geography Department, SDSU

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Principles of Physical Geography

Drifting Along When a wave reaches the shore, water moves up the beach, carrying material with it SWASH. When the energy of the wave is depleted, the water flows back to the sea, carrying material with it BACKWASH. Because waves always strike the shore at an angle, material carried by the swash and the backwash moves along the beach BEACH DRIFT. And More Drift In addition to BEACH DRIFT, the movement of water along the coast produces a current along the shore the LONGSHORE CURRENT, which carries material along the shore LONGSHORE DRIFT. Sand spit, LONGSHORE DRIFT + BEACH Little Tail Point, Green Bay, WI DRIFT = LITTORAL DRIFT. Moving waters ability to transport depends on velocity. When the longshore current reaches a bay, speed drops, and the material carried is dumped to form a spit.
Image source: http://www.epa.gov/grtlakes/ecopage/wetlands/glc/plate3.html

Eroding Headlands & Pocket Beaches When littoral drift deposits more sand along the coast than it carries away, the beach grows progradation. When more material is carried away than deposited, the beach shrinks retrogradation. Resistant rocky headlands will be worn away and their sand will be deposited between the headlands in what are called cove beaches or pocket beaches. Changing Beaches If more sand is added than taken away PROGRADATION. If more sand is taken away then added RETROGRADATION. If structures are built that interfere with the beach drift or longshore drift, people can change the shape of a beach. If the supply of sand is cut off, beaches can be depleted or destroyed. Tidal Currents Most coastlines are affected by the tides the periodic rise and fall of sea level, affected by the movements of the moon and sun. In some places, the daily cycle of the tides can be massive 16 meters in parts of the estuary of the Bay of Fundy in Canada. Tidal currents can keep bays open, by preventing the build-up of sediments.

2007 Alan Rice Osborn

Geography Department, SDSU

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Principles of Physical Geography

Tidal currents can also fill in bays and estuaries, since they can transport and deposit large amounts of fine material. Coastlines There are three categories of coastline: SUBMERGENCE (partially drowned coasts, caused by a rise in sea level or sinking of the crust). o EXAMPLES: ria, fiord, barrier island, fault EMERGENCE (formerly underwater landforms exposed by a fall in sea level or a rising of the land). o EXAMPLES: raised shoreline, marine terrace BUILT (created by a process that constructs new land). o EXAMPLES: volcano, delta, coral reef Submergent Coastlines Examples: RIA (drowned river valleys). FIORD (drowned glacial valleys). BARRIER ISLAND (see below). FAULT COAST (down-thrust faulting). Barrier Islands Barrier islands are basically offshore sand bars huge submerged dunes up to a few miles Fisherman Island, from the actual coast Virginia Barrier islands protect the coast from severe storms and waves, and are important in ocean shipping
Image source: http://easternshore.fws.gov/Fisherman%20Island/FI%20Gen%20Info.htm

Emergent Coastlines Emergent coastlines are created by the exposure of formerly submarine landforms, caused by a fall in sea level or a rise of the land Examples RAISED SHORELINE MARINE TERRACE Built Coastlines Built coastlines are created by any process which constructs new land along a coast Examples VOLCANO DELTA CORAL REEF

2007 Alan Rice Osborn

Geography Department, SDSU

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Principles of Physical Geography

Deltas

Deltas of the Mississippi, Ganges, and Nile Rivers.


Source: http://daac.gsfc.nasa.gov/DAAC_DOCS/geomorphology/GEO_5/geo_images_5/

Coral Reefs

Coral atolls (Midway and Baker Islands)


Sources: http://pacificislands.fws.gov/wnwr/nwrindex.html ;http://www.accessnoaa.noaa.gov/images/coralmap1.jpg

The Power of the Wind Like water, wind can erode, transport, and deposit. However, because air is so much less dense than water, its power is usually much less evident. Only in arid or semi-arid areas is the wind a highly significant shaper of landforms. Transportation Because of airs low density, only very fine particles (dust) can be transported in suspension. Larger particles (sand) can seldom rise more than a few centimeters above the surface. Heavier material cant be moved at all. Most material moves by saltation (bouncing) or creep. Landforms of Erosion: Blowout Wind can remove loose surface material. This process is called deflation. Normally, the process is slow and unnoticed. However, under some circumstances a large depression up to a kilometer across can be created. This is called a deflation hollow or blowout.

2007 Alan Rice Osborn

Geography Department, SDSU

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Principles of Physical Geography

Landforms of Erosion: Reg Desert pavement or reg is produced by wind removing all fine material, leaving behind a layer of gravel and pebbles that armors the surface. Dust Storms Dust fine material, smaller than sand can form dense clouds, and can be carried enormous distances even across oceans.
Saharan dust storm, moving out over the Atlantic
Source: http://pao.gsfc.nasa.gov/gsfc/gnews/041301/041301.htm#saharan

Dust storm, Al Asad, Iraq (April 26, 2005)


Source: http://www.marines.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/lookupstoryref/2005426134811

Landforms of Deposition: Sand Dunes A sand dune is a loose hill of sand, shaped by the wind. Active dunes are constantly changing. Most dunes are made of quartz sand (silicon dioxide). Types of Dunes Sand dunes can take an almost infinite variety of shapes. However, we can recognize several basic types: Barchan (crescents) Transverse (waves) Star dunes (mountains) Parabolic (coastal blowout) Longitudinal (lines)
Source: http://www.mojavedata.gov/mdep/geomorphic/mdei_images/dunes.gif

2007 Alan Rice Osborn

Geography Department, SDSU

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Principles of Physical Geography

Moving Sand Sand creeps and saltates up the windward side of the dune, reaches the lip of the slip face and falls. Dunes migrate as the sand they are made of is eroded from the windward side and deposited on the steeper leeward side. Barchan Dunes Barchan (or crescentic dunes) are isolated hills of sand that move across a flat surface. Barchans have a characteristic shape On the upwind side, the slope is gentle and rounded. Source: http://www.nps.gov/grsa/resources/barchan.htm On the downwind slip face the slope is steep. The points of the crescent point downwind. Transverse Dunes Where there is lots of sand a sand sea or erg dunes form wave-like ridges separated by troughs. The dune crests are at right angles transverse to the prevailing wind.
Source: http://www.nps.gov/grsa/resources/transverse.htm

Parabolic Dunes Parabolic dunes look a little like barchan dunes but they are curved in the opposite direction (that is, the points of the curve are into the wind). Deflation is important in the formation of some parabolic dunes. Parabolic dunes can take a variety of shapes (broad, "hairpin," etc.) Longitudinal Dunes Longitudinal (or linear or seif) dunes form long, narrow ridges of sand oriented parallel (roughly) to the prevailing winds. Longitudinal dunes may be dozens of miles long. Coastal Foredunes Just inland from a beach there is often a belt of sand dunes, stabilized by beach grasses. These are called foredunes. Coastal foredunes can become quite high, and can protect areas inland from high waves unless something damages the vegetation, and a blowout happens. Tree Island
Coastal Foredune Deflation Plain Parabolic Dune Beach

Ocean

After: http://www.fs.fed.us/r6/siuslaw/recreation/tripplanning/oregondunes/index.shtml 2007 Alan Rice Osborn Geography Department, SDSU Page 17 of 18

Principles of Physical Geography

Loess Loess is made up of silt (very fine soil). Loess deposits are commonly located in or near glacial regions (or areas that were once glaciated). Glacial debris can be carried away by the wind because there is little vegetation in glaciated areas to hold sediment. The fine sediment can travel hundreds of kilometers, with hundreds of tons of sediment being transported in a single dust storm. Loess deposits, though not very strong structurally, tend to form steep cliffs. They are often superb farmland.

Sources: http://www.eos.nasa.gov/globe/soilform/deposits.htm ; http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Study/Paleoclimatology_Speleothems/

Induced Deflation Human activities farming marginal land, draining lakes, overgrazing, mining, etc. can induce deflation, making the surface more prone to be removed. Dust (particulates) has become a severe health problem in many areas.
Dust storm near Owens Lake, California
Source: http://geochange.er.usgs.gov/sw/impacts/geology/owens/fig2d.jpg

2007 Alan Rice Osborn

Geography Department, SDSU

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