Unit III







he surface of the earth constitutes a great assemblage of physical features, each having a form, dynamics, and uniqueness. It is called landform. No landform is permanent, each is changing — some slowly while others fast. Landforms vary in size from continents to minor rivulets. A host of internal and external forces are involved in the creation of landforms. Tectonic forces crumple rocks and push up continents and mountain ranges. Moving water, air and ice erode rocks and transport the eroded debris to depositional sites and thus, change the appearance of the landscapes with the passage of time. The intensity of these agencies varies from one region to another depending on climate, vegetation and altitude. Geomorphology is the genetic study of landfor ms. T raditionally, the study was essentially confined to origin and evolution of landforms. According to some, the study and interpretation of records left by erosion constitute the major part of the science of geomorphology. While others view geomorphology not merely as a study of landforms but also interaction, at the contact surface, between the lithosphere and the atmosphere. Two great geomorphologists, S.W. Wooldridge and W.M. Davis considered that landforms were the best indicators of the earth’s history. The view of the earth’s history proposed by the catastrophists of the early nineteenth century was of a succession of abrupt upheavals culminating in a great flood. These paroxysms were interpreted as the result of Divine intervention. In contrast, C. Lyell and J.Hutton hypothesised slow changes involving a number of natural processes. J. Hutton in


the book Theory of the Earth with Proof and Illustrations (1785) recognised the cyclical nature of geological changes. He postulated that ordinary processes, operating over long time intervals could effect great changes. He reasoned from observation that rocks slowly decayed and disintegrated under the action of water and air. Hutton observed mountains being eroded, rivers carrying debris to the sea, ocean waves pounding rocks, sands and mud settling to the bottom and then being buried on the sea floor. Nature behaves in a uniform fashion all the time. Charles L yell called it Principle of Uniformitarianism. Actually what remains uniform are the physical and chemical laws that govern geological activities. LANDFORM TYPES Landforms that result from crustal movements are of tectonic type. No sub-aerial relief can occur until tectonic uplift has raised land above sea level or they are constructed by depositional (volcanic or sedimentational) processes. Terrestrial land forms can be classified into the following hierarchy: first order land forms, second order land forms, and third order land forms. The first order landforms include the continents and ocean basins that comprise the largest units of the earth’s relief. In the light of Plate Tectonic Theory (discussed in Chapter 5 of this book), the continents are large masses that are rafted and rooted in the mantle. As a consequence of this process new oceans are formed. The second order landform includes the tectonic mountain belts, plateaus and plains. Under the second order relief, the landscapes



are characterised primarily by their tectonic or structural unity. The second order relief is generally, created by internal or endogenic earth processes driven by the energy source in the form of volcanism and/or tectonic activity from deep inside the earth. The Himalaya mountains and the Deccan Plateau are examples of the second order landforms. The third order landform includes the features produced by erosion such as carved mountains, hills and valleys. Atmospheric weathering and erosion are largely responsible in giving rise to the landforms by destructional or erosional processes. Complex series of reactions take place when rocks are exposed to water and air in the planet’s gravitational field. The third order landforms are shaped by the external or exogenic earth processes. External processes, driven by solar energy, act through the atmosphere and oceans where air and water come in contact with the lithoshpere. WEATHERING The world’s different landscapes have been made mainly by the action of weather on rocks. The term rock weathering is used to describe chemical decomposition and physical disintegration of rocks. L ying above the bedrock may be a layer of loose material, the regolith (rego — blanket, lith — rock). Regolith is a term that can be used broadly to refer to any layer of relatively loose or soft material lying on the bedrock. When regolith is formed by decomposition and disintegration of the bedrock that lies directly beneath it, it is called residual regolith. The regolith transported by streams, ice, wind and deposited elsewhere is called transported regolith. Weathering takes place in three ways: by physical or mechanical action, by chemical action and by biochemical or biological action. Mechanical Weathering In middle and high latitude climates and at high altitudes alternate freezing and melting of water called frost action provides powerful mechanism for breaking up of rocks. Water

that has penetrated joint planes and other natural openings in the rock expands when transformed into ice crystals. The pressure of growing mass of such crystals cause joint blocks to be heaved up and pried free of the parent mass. In the dry climates of low and middle latitudes, an important agent of rock disintegration is salt. The dry climates have long droughts in which evaporation can occur continuously causing water deep in the rock to be drawn surfaceward by capillary force. Near the rock surface, this moisture steadily evaporates permitting dissolved salts to be deposited in openings of the rock. Although minute in size and appearing fragile, the growing salt crystals are capable of exerting powerful stresses. Temperature changes are also a factor in the disintegration of rocks. Daily temperature changes may not cause rock disintegration, but repeated expansion and contraction assist in breaking up of rocks already affected by other stresses and by chemical decay. The action of the roots of growing plant, exerting pressure upon the confining walls of regolith or rock is yet another kind of mechanical weathering. This process is especially important in the breakup of rock already weakened by other physical and chemical means. Rocks break in different ways. Rocks composed of coarse grain fall apart grain by grain. Some rocks disintegrate like skins of onions, called exfoliation. Others break along joints as in block separaton or along new surfaces producing angular pieces as in shattering (Fig. 8.1). Chemical Weathering Chemical weathering consists of several chemical reactions, which may occur more or less simultaneously. Oxidation is one of the most typical exothermic, volume increasing reactions. Especially common is the reaction of iron bearing minerals with oxygen dissolved in water. Other typical weathering reaction is carbonation. It is reaction of minerals with dissolved carbon dioxide in water. Hydrolysis, yet another chemical reaction, is the decompo-sition of mineral with water. Some minerals get dissolved in a chemical reaction called solution.



erosion. Larger plants affect weathering in a number of ways. Cracks may be widened by root pressure. The accumulation of elements by plants and their return to the surface of the soil affect the nature of the soil and weathering profiles and the course of weathering. Vegetation litter and decaying vegetation are important in conserving moisture which in turn enhances weathering. MASS WASTING The force of gravity acts constantly upon all soil, regolith and bedrock. In most places the internal strength of these materials is sufficient to keep them in place. Wherever the ground surface is sloping, a proportion of the force of gravity is directed downslope parallel with the surface. Every particle has at least some tendency to roll or slide downhill and will do so whenever the downslope force exceeds the resisting forces of friction and cohesion that tend to bind the particle to the rest of the mass. The forms of mass wasting range from the catastrophic slides to the small flows of water saturated soil. But extremely slow movement of soil, imperceptible from one year to the next year, also acts on almost every hillside (Table 8.1). Careful inspection of hillside often discloses evidence that the soil has been very slowly moving downslope rather steadily over a long period of time. This phenomenon is called soil creep (Fig. 8.2). It is the result of shear distributed along countless joint fractures and bedding or cleavage surfaces in the rock. In hilly and mountainous regions of humid climate, water-saturated soil and regolith rich in clay minerals take the form of an earthflow. Earthflow is a form of mass wasting in which behaviour of the earth material is that of a plastic solid (Fig. 8.3). Solifluction is an arctic variety of earthflow in the treeless tundra.

Fig.8.1 : Mechanical Weathering Note four geometrical forms into which rocks may break.

Biological Weathering The breakdown of rocks and minerals is very largely controlled by plants, animals and bacteria as well. The main contribution of animals to weathering seems to be repeated mixing of soil material, thus bringing fresh material into exposure to weathering agents. Snails are common in lime-rich areas and can wear deep holes in limestone. Bird droppings may provide organic matter for the start of soil formation and weathering. Grazing by large animals loosens the soil, thus, increasing surface runoff and soil
Type of Movement Falls Topples Slides Flows Bedrock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock fall topple slump slide flow

Table 8.1 : Types of Mass Movements Type of Material (Soils) Predominantly Coarse Predominantly Fine Debris Debris Debris Debris Debris fall topple slump slide flow Earth Earth Earth Earth Earth fall topple slump slide flow



Fig.8.2 : Soil Creep Common place evidence of imperceptible down slope creep of soil.

where melting winter snow picks up weathered rocks rich in clay. Along vertical rock cliff, the process of physical weathering loosens the rocks. When the force of gravity brings them down they are described as rockfalls. The falling rock masses break into smaller fragments to form a slope of loose materials called talus. Sliding of a single block of rock on its lower surface is called rock slide (Fig.8.4). When a block slips on a curved fracture plane rotating backward upon a horizontal axis, it is known as slump (Fig. 8.4). The processes of erosion, transportation and deposition are carried out by several agents, such as running water, glacial ice, sea waves, and winds. RUNNING WATER Running water is undoubtedly the most important agent of denudation. It is most conspicuous as a stream or river that transports enormous volumes of surplus precipitation from the land to the ocean. Stream action, in combination with weathering, mass wasting and overland flow is responsible for total process called fluvial denudation. Running water as a geomorphic agent acts in two basic forms. First is overland flow, the movement of runoff downhill on the ground surface in a more or less broadly distributed sheet or film. Second is channel flow or stream flow, in which water moves to lower levels in a long, narrow, troughlike feature called a stream channel bounded on both sides by rising slopes called banks that contains the flow. Stream channels are organised into branching channel networks. Together with the land surface slopes that contribute runoff by overland flow, the channel network forms a drainage system or drainage basin which is a line following a chain of continuous ridge crests. The line includes all of the surface or watershed that slopes toward the channels of the system. Rivers perform three closely interrelated geomorphic work : • Erosion; • Transportation; and • Deposition.

Mass wasting takes the form of mudflow if proportion of water to mineral matter is large. It travels fast down the channels of streams. Mudflows also originate high in mountains

Fig.8.3 : Earth Flow Slump features are well developed in the upper part of a slope.

Fig.8.4 : Landslide Two basic forms of landslide — rockslide and slump may be noted.



River erosion is the progressive removal of mineral matter from the surfaces of stream channel which itself may consist of bedrock or regolith. River transportation is the movement of eroded particles in chemical solution, in turbulent suspension or by rolling and dragging along the bed. River deposition consists of accumulation of any transported particles on the streambed, on the adjoining floodplain or on the floor of a body of standing water into which the river empties. While the river performs all three functions simultaneously, one may dominate over the other in different parts of the river courses. River Erosion The nature of river erosion depends upon the materials of which the channel is composed and the means of erosion available to the river. One simple means of erosion is hydraulic action, the pressure and drag of flowing water exerted upon grains projecting from the bed and banks. Weak bedrock and various forms of regolith are easily carved out by hydraulic action alone. Mechanical wear, termed abrasion, occurs when rock particles carried in the current strike against the exposed bedrocks of the channel. Small particles are further reduced by crushing and grinding when caught between larger cobbles and boulders. Chemical reactions between ions carried in solution in river water and exposed mineral surfaces result in a form of erosion called solution. Gentle rain falling on bare surface loosens the soil and muddies the water. The muddy water flows as thin, slow moving surface layer of water called sheet flow. As the slope increases, the water scours additional sediments and erodes small channels called rills. Headward erosion of rills and their subsequent widening lead to gully formation. Gullies dissect the land into a number of isolated little hills, giving rise to badland topography. The valley of the Chambal in Madhya Pradesh is an example of badland topography. Entering the plains, the running water deposits the transported material laterally called as lateral accretion. Point bars formed by meandering rivers on their concave bends are

a good example of lateral accretion (Fig. 8.5). Sometimes, when a segment of the meandering river channel is abandoned to straighten its course, the abandoned channel is known as oxbow lake (Fig. 8.6).

Fig.8.5 : Formation of Meanders Meanders develop with a slight change in the channel of the stream in initial stage.

When the velocity of running water as it comes out from hills and meets the plain decreases, it dumps the transported material at the foot hills forming alluvial fans. By the time a river enters the sea or a large lake, it loses its

Fig.8.6 : River-Born Features in a Plain Note river meander and associated landforms.

velocity. The fine material carried down the distance is deposited at this point to form a triangular fan called delta.



River Transportation It takes three different forms. First, dissolved solids such as salts travel downstream indefinitely and reach the ocean. They do not affect the mechanical behaviour of the river. Second, particles of clay, silt and sometimes, fine sand are carried in suspension. In this form of transport, the upward currents in eddies of flow are capable of holding the particles indefinitely in the body of the river. Clay particles, once lifted into suspension, are so readily carried that they travel long distances. As a result, suspension provides a means of separating solid particles of various sizes and carrying each size category to a different location, a process known a sorting. Third, rolling or sliding of grains along the stream bed. These dragging motions can be conveniently included in the term traction. Fragments moved in traction are bed load of the river. The erosion and transportation depends upon the energy of a stream. The volume of water and speed of its movement provide energy to it. A swift mountain stream by vertical erosion for ms V-shaped valleys, gorges, rapids and waterfalls. Where side rocks

are very resistant the valley becomes very narrow and the sides steep to form gorges. The Satluj, the Indus and the Brahmaputra have formed deep gorges in the Himalayas. Irregular bed of a river caused by occurrence of rocks of varying resistance leads to the formation of rapids where water jumps up and down while flowing. When the break in the river courses is great, waterfalls are formed. River Deposition The fine clays continue in transportation almost indefinitely, but the coarser silts settle down when river velocity drops to moderate values. In this way clay is carried to the sea, where it contacts salt water and undergoes clotting into larger particles, or flocculation. Particles of medium to coarse sand and larger particles travel as bed load in a river. River meanders, flood plains, braided channels, oxbows lakes and deltas develop in plains as a result of lateral and bed deposits. GLACIERS Glaciers are defined quite broadly as large natural accumulations of land ice affected by

Fig.8.7 : Conditions for Formation of a Glacier Accumulated ice moves downwards.



motion. Matter, in the form of snow, is received upon the upper surface in the zone of highest elevation where the rate of loss of snow by ablation in summer is, on an average, less than the rate at which the snow is received. This region of net gain is called the zone of accumulation (Fig. 8.7). In the lower part of the glacier, loss by ablation, exceeds the rate at which snow accumulates and the imbalance is greater as we follow the glacier to lower, warmer elevations. This region of net loss is the exit boundary of the system and is known as the zone of ablation. Beneath the glacier, ice moves plastically removing and picking loose materials. This activity is called glacial plucking. Blocks of rock being carried within the glacier or ice are scraped and dragged along the rock floor, grooving the bedrock and chipping out fragments of rock in an abrasive process called grinding. As the ice moves it carries the rocks along, and grinds them into smaller grains. The scratches or striations so formed are the relic of that action. Striations are clues to the direction the ice moved. Ice erodes and transports material from the sides of its valley with a special efficiency. Not only does it scrap the sides below the ice level, but the ice acts as a conveyor belt for any debris that happens to fall or slide from higher up on the valley walls onto the surface of the glacier. The crushing strength applied to the bed by overriding glacier or ice is exceedingly high. Large quantity of eroded material accompanies glacier. Strip of dirt and rock that flow with the ice and deposit along the sides of valley is known lateral moraine (Fig. 8.8). When the lateral moraines of two glaciers merge, they form a single medial moraine in the middle. Plucking of bedrocks by the overriding glacier leads to the formation of glacial trough, a channel of the valley glacier. The glacial trough, if filled up by water gives rise to trough lake. The glacial troughs formed near the sea get filled in by the sea water giving rise to fiords. At the head of each trough a steep headed, semi-circular basin is formed called cirque. Where three or more cirques intersect, a highly pyramidal peak may rise above the level, called horn. The rate of movement of glaciers varies from an average of 4 centimetres to about 18 metres a day. Its velocity increases with the steepness of

Fig.8.8 : A Glaciated Topography The upper sketch shows valleys covered with glaciers. The lower one shows the features formed by a glacial erosion.

slope and decreases with the friction and debris at the bottom floor. Unequal movement leads to splitting of ice and development of cracks on the glacial body which are called crevasses. U-shaped valleys, cirques and sheep-back shaped rocks are common features of the topography which experienced glaciations. Below the snowlines the glacier melts and the materials carried by it is deposited. Eskers, drumlins, out wash plain and many other features are noticeable in this area (Fig.8.9).

Fig.8.9 : Features Formed by Glacial Deposition Examine various forms with reference to direction of movement of ice.



WINDS Winds are highly variable in direction and force. The distribution and intensity of winds in combination with climate has much to do with the location of wind erosion and windblown deposits on the earth. One form of wind erosion is deflation, the lifting and transporting of loose particles of clay and silt, collectively referred to as dust. The particles are suspended in turbulent eddies in the wind structure. The process is much like that of suspension of fine sediments in river flow. The dust is diffused upward into the atmosphere to heights ranging from a few metres to several kilometres. The height depends upon intensity of wind turbulence, duration of the wind and fineness of the particles. The result may be dense cloud called dust storm. Deflation occurs where clays and silts in a thoroughly dried state are exposed on barren land surfaces. The sand moves in a layer only a few centimetre above the ground at most. The grains make long leaps downward. The process of leaping by rebound is termed saltation. In this way, the wind transfers kinetic energy to the grain, which on impact with the sand surface dislodges other grains and may project them into the air. Excavation of shallow depressions by wind erosion is called deflation hollows or blowouts. Deflation removes the finer materials leaving behind bigger pebbles. Such residual sheets of pebble or gravel is called desert pavement. Sandblast action is another form of wind erosion. It results from mineral grains of sand blasting against exposed rock surfaces. We often observe it in desert areas and in the coastal areas. Notches, honeycombed surfaces and mushroom rocks (Fig. 8.10) are some of the features formed by sandblast actions. When dust is transported by wind to long distances and deposited in large area, it produces a landform called loess. By far the most prominent landforms of deserts are sand dunes. They are created by winds transporting sand and depositing it to form round hillocks of sand. An isolated dune of crescent shape is

Fig.8.10 : Mushroom Rock Observe the shape. What could be the reason for its formation?

called barchan (Fig. 8.11). Dunes separated by troughs are called transverse dunes. Dunes

Fig.8.11 : Barchans Note its formation with reference to wind direction.

having long, narrow ridges parallel to the prevailing wind direction are called longitudinal dunes. WAVES The coast, the broad region that is the meeting place of land and sea, can be carved into many kinds of shapes — steep rocky cliffs, broad low beaches, crescents of small beaches or wide, sweeping, sandy tidal flats. The forces that shape coasts are essentially the destructive processes of erosion operating in conjunction



with sea waves that transport and deposit material. At the shoreline, the line along which the water meets the land, the major erosive agent is wave action. Ocean waves produced by wind are of two types: progressive, in which the wave forms move rapidly through the water and oscillatory, which moves up and down only. When a train of waves arrives at the coast of a continent or island, it encounters shallow water. Wave orbits in shallow water are modified into ellipses which become progressively flatter as the bottom is approached. In this way, not by separate segments but in a continuous transition along the wave crest, the line of the wave bends as it slows, in a process called wave refraction. This process is so called because of its similarity to the bending of light rays in optical refraction. Wave refraction produces special effects on an irregular shoreline with indented bays and projecting headlands. Erosion by waves is thus, concentrated at headlands and tends to wear them away more quickly than along straight sections of shoreline. Along a coast of hard rock, a gently inclined rock surface is carved out to accommodate the swash and backswash. It is called abrasion platform. A shoreline rising abruptly from the abrasion platform is called marine cliff. The stormy waves thrust rock fragments with great violence, against the cliff base to develop wave cut notches and sea caves (Fig. 8.12). Relatively thick and gently sloping accumulation of sand, gravel or cobbles in the zone of breakers and surf is called beach. During summer when waves are weaker sand from deeper water is moved to the beach. A reverse of situation occurs in winter.

Fig.8.12 : Erosional Features Produced by Wave Action

The erosive work of sea depends largely upon the size and strength of waves, seaward slope, height of the shore between low and high tides, the composition of rocks and the depth of water. Breaking of waves along the shore develops a considerable force on rocks. Erosion, however, is also affected by the solvent and chemical actions of sea waves.
• Mass movements are environmental hazards in terms of property damage to highways, railroads and structures of all kinds. Clays that spontaneously change from a solid condition to a near liquid condition is called quick clay. A sudden shock or disturbance may often cause a layer of quick clay to begin to liquefy, called liquefaction, that once begun cannot be stopped.


Review Questions 1. Answer the following questions: (i) What is geomorphology? (ii) Name the geomorphologists who considered that landforms were the best indicators of the earth’s history.



(iii) What is relief? (iv) Name various types of weathering. (v) Arrange the following, from smaller to bigger form: stream, gully, river, rill. (vi) What is a fiord? 2. Distinguish between: (i) Mechanical and chemical weathering; (ii) Earth flow and mud flow; (iii) Alluvial fans and deltas; (iv) V-shaped valley and U-shaped valley. 3. Write short notes on the following: (i) Moraines; (ii) Wind erosion; (iii) Disintegration. 4. Explain various forms of mass wasting. Project Work Prepare a list of erosional and depositional features formed by a river and draw sketches to show each of them.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful