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Common River Terms

Source The place where a river begins.
Course The route the river takes to the
Tributary A small river that joins a larger
Confluence The point where the
tributary joins the river.

Common River Terms

Mouth The point where the river enters
the sea.
Estuary The part of the mouth that is
Basin The area of land drained by a
Watershed The high ground separating
one river basin from another.

The Rivers Journey

Rivers usually begin in the mountains.
They flow downhill onto flat land and into the sea.

The Shannons Journey

The River Shannon is
Irelands longest river.
It flows from the Cuilcagh
Mountains in Co. Leitrim
to the Atlantic Ocean on
the west coast of Ireland.

The Stages of a Rivers Journey

As the river flows from its source to the sea it goes through 3
stages. These are,

The Upper or Youthful Stage

The Middle or Mature Stage
The Lower or Old Stage

The Youthful River

The youthful river has a small amount of
water but it travels very quickly down the
steep mountain slope.
Most of its energy is used to erode (wear
away) the landscape.
This erosion (wearing away) occurs in 4

4 Processes of River Erosion

Hydraulic Action The force of the
moving water wears away the banks and
bed of the river.
Abrasion Small stones carried by the
river wear away at the the banks and bed
of the river.

4 Processes of River Erosion

Attrition The small stones in the river
are worn down and broken up as they hit
off each other.
Solution Rocks and soil are dissolved
by acids in the water.

Landforms of the Youthful Stage

All of the erosion by the river creates features

or landforms on the landscape.

Three features created in the youthful stage are,

1. V-shaped Valleys
2. Interlocking Spurs
3. Waterfalls

V-Shaped Valleys
V-shaped valleys get their name from their
shape. The river erodes the landscape and
creates a valley in the shape of a V.
This occurs because of Vertical Erosion. The
river cuts down into the river bed, making it
deeper. It creates a narrow deep valley.
Mechanical weathering and mass movement
create the V shape. See Diagram.

V-Shaped Valleys

Interlocking Spurs
As the rivers flows it meets areas of hard
rock. It cannot erode these so it flows
around them.
This creates a zigzag course. See


Waterfalls are formed when

rivers flow over areas of hard
and soft rock.

The river erodes the soft rock

but cannot erode the hard
rock. This creates a step which
the water starts to fall over.

The falling water erodes

deeper into the bed. The rivers
load creates a Plunge Pool as
it falls. See Diagram.


The Mature Stage

We now know that during the youthful stage the
river is mainly eroding the landscape.
Erosion breaks off particles of rock and soil from
the bed and banks of the river. They are carried
along by the river and are known as the Load.
The load is carried from upland to lowland areas.
This process is called River Transportation.

River Transportation
All rivers carry material in them. This material is carried by
the river as it flows along.
Rivers can carry large stones, small stones, sand, and
other dissolved minerals.
All of this material in the river is called the rivers Load
When the river moves its load we call this River Transportation

River Transportation
Transportation occurs in 4 ways.

1. Rolling
2. Bouncing
3. Suspension
4. Solution

River Transportation





Rolling The large stones are rolled along the
bed of the river.


Bouncing The smaller pebbles are bounced
along the bed of the river.


Suspension Light material like sand and silt are
carried along (floating) in the water.


Solution Dissolved materials are carried along by

the river.


Landforms of the Mature Stage

In the Mature Stage the river begins to slow down,
and so it begins to deposit some of its load. It
creates the following features.
1. Wide river valley
2. Meanders
3. Flood plain

Landforms of the Mature Stage

Wider River Valley
In the mature stage the river moves from
side to side and the valley becomes wide
and flat. Weathering and Mass Movement
continue to wear away at the sides of the
valley. See diagram.

Landforms of the Mature Stage

Meanders are bends or curves along the river. They are formed by erosion and
deposition. Erosion occurs on one side of the river while deposition occurs on
the opposite side. This continues, making the bends sharper. See diagrams.


Landforms of the Mature Stage

Flood Plain
A flood plain is the flat area of land on either side
of the river. After heavy rain the river sometimes
floods. The water spreads out over the land on
either side of the river. When the river retreats it
leaves behind a thin layer of alluvium. After many
floods a thick layer of alluvium is created. This is
very fertile soil.

The Old Stage

In the Old Stage the river is
carrying lots of sand and
silt. It is now flowing over
flat land and so it is moving
slowly. Therefore it begins
to drop off its load. This is
called deposition. Like
erosion in the Youthful
Stage, deposition also
creates many features or

Landforms of the Old Stage

The following features or landforms are
created by river deposition in the Old Stage.
1. Ox-Bow Lakes
2. Levees
3. Delta

Landforms of the Old Stage

Ox-Bow Lakes
An ox-bow lake is a horseshoe
shaped lake found beside a
river. Ox-bow lakes are formed
when continued erosion and
deposition create very
pronounced meanders.
Eventually the river cuts through
the neck of the meander.
Deposition then occurs which
leaves the ox-bow lake
separated from the river.

How an Ox-Bow Lake is Made

Landforms of the Old Stage

Levees are raised banks of deposited material
found along the banks of the river. When the river
floods and spreads out over the floodplain, the
heaviest material is deposited close to the river.
Over time and after many periods of flooding this
deposited material forms levees along the banks of
the river.

Levees Raised Banks

Landforms of the Old Stage

A Delta is a triangular shaped piece of land
which is formed at the mouth of the river. As
the river enters the sea it drops off all the
remaining material it is carrying. This
material builds up to form new land. The river is
forced to break up into smaller channels called

Rivers and People

Rivers have always been important for
people. In the past, people settled near a
river as it provided them with food, water,
defence, and an easy method of transport.
Nowadays, people try to control rivers to
prevent flooding, for irrigation, to create electricity
(HEP), and to create improved transport links.
Rivers are also important for tourism and leisure.

Hydro-Electric Power (HEP)

Engineers build dams across
the river.
They can then control the
flow of water in the river.
They release the water and
use its power to turn large
Turning these turbines
creates power which is used to
generate electricity.