You are on page 1of 86

Rivers: Profiles & Landforms

Higher Geography The Hydrosphere

Source of river

River Profile
Upper Course
Middle Course

Lower Course

River speed

Moderate?? Slow??

Upper Course

Lower Course

Contrasting river landforms from source to mouth

Channel features Valley features Long profile

Upper Course - Channel features

River channel is rocky. Covered with various shapes and sizes of boulder. Discharge is low. Under flood conditions rivers energy is expended on vertical erosion with hydraulic action and corrosion processes at work. Potholes may form.

Vertical erosion

Pothole formation

Upper Course - Valley features

Valley sides are steep and form a V shaped cross section. Interlocking spurs.
V shaped valley
Steep sides Zig-zag bends (interlocking spurs)

V shaped valley
Form due to a combination of the following processes:
Vertical erosion by the river itself. Physical weathering (eg: frost action) which provides debris to move down slope. Mass movement (inc: soil creep & landslides) to move debris down slope.

Interlocking spurs
River flows around interlocking spurs

Upper Course Long Profile

Generally the gradient is steep and the profile is uneven, particularly where waterfalls and rapids form.

Waterfall formation
Soft rock is easy to erode, but the hard rock is resistant. So over time a ledge develops.

Hard Rock Lava Soft Rock Sandstone or Conglomerates

Waterfall formation
The water rushes over the ledge and erodes a plunge pool by abrasion and hydraulic action.

Hard Rock Lava Soft Rock Sandstone or Conglomerates

Waterfall formation
The ledge collapses into the plunge pool, where the debris helps to speed up the erosion.

Hard Rock Lava Soft Rock Sandstone or Conglomerates

Waterfall formation
The process is repeated and the waterfall gradually retreats upstream, carving out a gorge.

Hard Rock Lava Soft Rock Sandstone or Conglomerates





Formation of rapids

Resistant rock

Less Resistant Rock

Features in the Upper Course (closer to the source)

1. Steep V-shaped 2. Inter-locking valleys spurs As a river cuts down Water will find the vertically into its bed, course of least the valley side walls resistance, it become degraded by therefore moves weathering and mass around hard rock. The movement, so that hard rock sticks out the valley itself adopts as spurs which inter a V-shaped profile. lock.

Upper course
3. Potholes Commonly found A circular depression under waterfalls or on a river bed carved rapids where out of solid rock hydraulic action is a Pebbles caught in significant process. eddy currents and Abrasion is also at whisked around within work here. a small natural crack or hollow

Upper course
4. Waterfalls A sudden step in a rivers long profile. The result of a tougher more resistant band of rock cutting across the valley. Waterfalls can migrate backwards to produce a steep sided valley or gorge.

See diagrams

Niagara Falls
At Niagara a hard band of limestone overlies softer shales and sandstones. The Niagara River plunges 50 m causing the falls to retreat by 1m a year and so creating the Niagara Gorge.

Upper course 5. RAPIDS

Cedar Rapids, USA Rapids can also be known as cataracts. They develop where the gradient of the river bed increases without a sudden break like a waterfall. Or where the river flow over a series of gently dipping bands of harder rock. Rapids increase the turbulence of a river and hence its erosive power. See diagram


Middle Course - Channel features

Channel is now wider and has smoother banks and bed compared to the upper course.

Middle Course - Valley features

River erosional energy is now increasingly expended horizontally rather than vertically. Lateral erosion by the rivers meanders broadens the valley floor into a narrow flood plain.
Meanders gradually shift their course downstream.

Middle Course 1

Middle Course 2

A meander starts as a slight bend:
Water flows faster on the outer curve of the bend (more energy), and slowest on the inner curve (less energy).

So the outer bank gets eroded while material is deposited at the inner bank.

Over time the outer bank gets worn away (river cliff) and the inner one builds up (river beach). The bend grows into a meander.

(refer to previous notes and diagrams)

Alternating series of irregularities develop Pools deeper stretches of slow moving water Riffles shallower section of faster flow, flowing above coarser material River develops a winding or sinuous course Faster flow on outer bend results in erosion and formation of River Cliff Slower flow on inside of bend results in deposition and formation of Slip-off Slope

Meanders develop and migrate laterally and downstream Helicoidal flow further assists meander formation and transports sediment from river cliff to the slip-off slope on the inside of the next bend.

Possible break through point Possible ox-bow lake

Most erosion on the outside of the bend .. Fastest flow

Flood plain


Middle Course - Profile

Middle Course - Profile

Gradient is now less steep. Overall the profile is smooth but an outcrop of resistant rock could still cause a waterfall.

Middle Course 1.MEANDERS

In the middle course of the river the discharge has increased as more tributaries feed into the river. Gradient has decreased so instead of vertical erosion, lateral erosion takes over.
See overhead for 3 types of flow in the river channel

Rivers follow the path of least resistance so it is often forced to follow a winding route. Fastest flow is on the outside of the bend

What causes meandering?

A) An obstruction in the channel - This causes the water to be thrown to the outside of the channel as the water finds the path of least resistance
See diagram on overhead

B) Helicoidal flow
Surface water flows towards the outer (concave) banks the water descends eroding & undercutting the bank The bottom flow is towards the inner (convex) bank - eroded material is carried along the bed & deposited on the slip of slope area
See diagram on overhead

Fluvial Landforms Middle course of river

What causes meanders?

C) In straight channels there is a regular pattern of shallow areas (called riffles) and deep areas (called pools). Spacing is usually 5 to 6 times bed width

Fluvial Landforms Middle course of river

There is less friction in pools.

Thus, river flows faster and has more erosive power. Increased friction in the riffles slows water down and more deposition takes place.

Continuous erosion in the pools and deposition in the river accentuates the slight bends of a river. See diagram on overhead

Fluvial Landforms Middle course of river

Fluvial Landforms Middle course of river

Middle Course
Meanders will migrate across the plain and downstream
See diagram on overhead

2. Ox-bow Lakes Handout provided - also known as a cutoff or a mortlake - it is a crescent shaped lake originating in a meander

Lower Course - Channel features

The channel is now at its broadest and deepest.
Bedload is carried entirely in suspension and is solution. Deposition now dominates particularly during floods. Erosion also occurs in the formation of meanders

Lower Course Valley features

Thanks to lateral erosion the valley sides may now be several kilometres away. Typically it may also contain the following features:
Floodplain & natural leves Braided channels Meanders Oxbow lakes Estuaries and deltas

Lower Course

Natural leves
As the river floods, sediment is dropped over all the flooded areas but most falls along the river channel itself. This sediment raises the height of the banks is flooding occurs regularly
Levees themselves do not prevent flooding because as the banks are raised, more sediment is dropped on the river bed, raising the water level.

Gentle valley sides Flat floodplain

River is actually flowing above The floodplain !! Levees is often artificially strengthened

Layers of silt Deposited during floods

Coarse material Forms natural levees

Braided channels
Formed by the choking of the main channel by the deposition of a considerable amounts of the river load.
The channel splits into several smaller channels which flow around fresh islands of deposited material before rejoining.

Braided channels

Braided channels

Ox-bow lakes
Downstream migration of meanders produce pronounced meander loops which may form ox-bow lakes during flood conditions
1 Lateral erosion on outside of bends of pronounced meander

2 Narrow neck of meander gradually becomes narrower

3 Neck is cut through by river during floods and river forms new straighter channel 4 Cut-off is sealed by deposition 5 Ox-bow lake begins to silt up
(Core Higher, P 65, Fig 3.36)

Oxbow lakes
An Oxbow lake starts as a meander. During a flood the river cuts across the meander, forming a new channel. Sediment is deposited along the sides of the new channel. The loops gets sealed off and an oxbow lake forms. The water in it becomes stagnant. The lake will remain sealed of until either the river floods into it or it dries out.

Oxbow lakes



Estuaries and deltas

An estuary is where a river meets the sea (it is tidal).

Deltas are essentially the seaward extension of the floodplain and form where tides are too weak to remove deposit sediment.

Lower Course

Lower course -1. Floodplains

AGGRADATION occurs as the river bed is silted up due to deposition. There is still some lateral erosion to wear away the banks and widen the valley floor, but this is weak.

A FLOODPLAIN is a mostly flat area of land bordering a river that is subject to periodic flooding. It is made up of silts and sands which have been deposited over many years by the river

Floodplain Formation
1. Formed in 2 ways: When river in flood Wetted perimeter increases, so more friction Deposition of suspended load Alluvium deposited, and floodplain builds up in height over time E.g. it has proved impossible to drill down to bedrock in lower Nile valley due to depth of alluvium Alluvium provides a very fertile soil 2. By migration of meanders Deposition occurs on inside bend of meander Point bar deposits build up to form a slip off slope Ultimately the whole valley floor is affected as meanders wander across it The floodplain can be widened by lateral erosion of the meanders. The edge of the f.plain is often marked by a prominent slope known as the BLUFF LINE.

Lower Course Features

2. Levees Handout provided Natural levees produced during floods

Artificial levees built to protect from flooding e.g. levees on Mississippi stretch for 3,500 miles with average height of 7m and reaching 15m in places.

Lower course features

3. Terraces - These form when sea level drops - This could be due to tectonic uplift of plates e.g. Turkey - Or isostatic uplift due to deglaciation (ice melts so less weight and land rises e.g. in Britain) - Due to the drop in sea level the river has much more erosive power in its lower reaches - So the river cuts down into its bed and the old floodplain may be left perched above the channel to form a TERRACE

4. Braiding
BRAIDING is the subdivision of a river due to the build up of deposited material in the channel.
Why does this happen? A) Easily eroded river banks e.g. if made of loose sands and gravels. Braiding occurs in rivers which for short periods of the year carry a very heavy load in relation to their velocity e.g. B) A glacial out-water stream laden with sediment eroded by glacier. C) A stream during snowmelt in Alpine or Arctic areas. D) Rapid and frequent variation in stream discharge

Braiding continued
Why does the river divide? When discharge falls competence and capacity are reduced. The channel becomes choked with material which it cannot carry. Load is deposited. Dumped material forms islands in the channel called EYOTS (or BRAID BARS). River is forced to divide around EYOTS. The location and number of channels and islands is not permanent, these move about making navigation difficult. The smaller subdivided channels are faster and can cut into the bed, steepening the gradient and increasing efficiency.

Generally braided channels occur in summer when discharge is low. In winter greater discharge enables material to be transported again and the river can fill the whole width of its channel again.

Lower course 5. Deltas

A DELTA is the flat alluvial area at the mouth of some rivers where the mainstream splits up into several DITRIBUTARIES. Flooding from distributaries builds up the delta. The largest deltas in the world are the Ganges, Nile and Mississippi. Conditions for formation:

Most of the worlds deltas are decaying because people build dams which hold back sediment. Tides are also changing and getting higher, so eroding deltas.

A) Huge amount of sediment in the river B) River gradient is low C) Little current or tidal action as this would sweep sediment away

Mississippi Delta
BIRDS FOOT DELTA River has many distributaries which extend out to sea like the claws of a birds foot

Nile Delta
ARCUATE DELTA has a rounded, convex outer margin. When Mississippi and Nile reach the sea, the meeting of fresh and salt water produce an electric charge which causes clay particles to coagulate and to settle on the seabed, this process is called FLOCCULATION.

Tiber Delta
CUSPATE DELTA Material brought down by the river is spread out evenly on either side of its channel. Deltas are: - Fertile - High flood risk areas - Difficult to navigate as shallow and change shape

Running water is the most important agent of erosion on the continents and the stream valleys are the most common landforms. Rivers flowing to the oceans drain about 68 % of the Earth's land surface. The remainder of the land either is covered by ice or drains to closed basins. River gradually mould the land by eroding away the material in some place and depositing it in other

A river system consists of a main channel (trunk stream) and all of the tributaries that flow into it or joining the trunk stream. A RIVER SYSTEM CAN BE DIVIDED INTO THREE SUBSYSTEMS: collecting system (branches) -- consisting of a network of tributaries in the headwater region, collects and funnels water and sediment to the main stream transporting system (trunk) -- the main trunk stream, which functions as a channelway through which water and sediment move from the collecting area toward the ocean. (Erosion and deposition also occur in a river's transporting system) dispersing system (roots) -- consists of a network of distributaries at the mouth of a river (delta), where sediment and water are dispersed into an ocean, a lake, or a dry basin

Partsof River
tributary : a stream flowing into or joining a larger stream distributary : numerous stream branches into which a river divides where it reaches its delta upstream : moves toward headwater (up the regional slope of erosion) downstream : moves toward mouth of river (delta) Delta : a large, roughly triangular body of sediment deposited at the mouth of a river Meander : a broad, looping bend in a river Braided : river is divided into multiple channels by alluvial islands. Braided rivers tend to have steeper gradients

Drainage Pattern

Irregular branching pattern (tree like) in many direction. It is common in massive rocks and in flat lying strata Due to strong resistance of rocks headward development of valley is negligible.


Parallel or sub-parallel drainage formed on sloping surface. Common in terrain with homogeneous rocks. Development of parallel rills, gullies or narrow channels are commonly seen on steeper and gently sloping surface

Streams radiates out from the center of the topograhic high common in Volcanic terrain

Channels marked by right-angle bends

Commonly due to presence of joints and fractures in the massive rocks or foliation in metamorphic rocks

Consequent Stream: A stream following the slope. Development of slope may be due to sudden tectonic uplift

Subsequent Stream: A stream that develops later on, carving the softer rocks and flow at almost right angle to the original slope of the land


Alluvial Fan

Alluvial fans are fanshaped deposits of water-transported material (alluvium). They typically form at the base of topographic features where there is a marked break in slope. Consequently, alluvial fans tend to be coarsegrained, especially at their mouths. At their edges, however, they can be relatively finegrained.

Braided Channel

Levee s

Oxbow lakes

River system
Distributaries Trunk stream Tributaries

Headwat er