Last updated
Section of alluvium at the Blue Ribbon Mine in Alaska Section.jpg
Section of alluvium at the Blue Ribbon Mine in Alaska
Alluvium deposits in the Gamtoos Valley in South Africa South Africa-Eastern Cape-Gamtoos Valley-Alluvial Gravel01.jpg
Alluvium deposits in the Gamtoos Valley in South Africa
An alluvial plain in Red Rock Canyon State Park (California) AlluvialPlain.JPG
An alluvial plain in Red Rock Canyon State Park (California)
Alluvial river deposits in the Amazon Basin, near Autazes, AM, Brazil. The seasonal deposits are extremely fertile and crucial to subsistence farming in the Amazon Basin along the river banks. Amazon alluvium deposit - autazes.jpg
Alluvial river deposits in the Amazon Basin, near Autazes, AM, Brazil. The seasonal deposits are extremely fertile and crucial to subsistence farming in the Amazon Basin along the river banks.

Alluvium (from the Latin alluvius, from alluere, "to wash against") is loose clay, silt, sand, or gravel that has been deposited by running water in a stream bed, on a floodplain, in an alluvial fan, or in similar settings. [1] [2] [3] Alluvium is also sometimes called alluvial deposit. [4] [5] Alluvium is typically geologically young and is not consolidated into solid rock. Sediments deposited underwater, in seas, estuaries, lakes, or ponds, are not described as alluvium. [1]


Floodplain alluvium can be highly fertile, and supported some of the earliest human civilizations. [6]


The present consensus is that "alluvium" refers to loose sediments of all types deposited by running water in floodplains or in alluvial fans or related landforms. [1] [7] [8] However, the meaning of the term has varied considerably since it was first defined in the French dictionary of Antoine Furetière, posthumously published in 1690. Drawing upon concepts from Roman law, Furetière defined alluvion (the French term for alluvium) as new land formed by deposition of sediments along rivers and seas. By the 19th century, the term had come to mean recent sediments deposited by rivers on top of older diluvium , which was similar in character but interpreted as sediments deposited by Noah's flood. With the rejection by geologists of the concept of a primordial universal flood, the term "diluvium" fell into disfavor and was replaced with "older alluvium". At the same time, the term "alluvium" came to mean all sediment deposits due to running water on plains. The definition gradually expanded to include deposits in estuaries and coasts and young rock of both marine and fluvial origin. [8]

Alluvium and diluvium were grouped together as colluvium in the late 19th century. However, "colluvium" is now generally understood to mean sediments produced by gravity-driven transport on steep slopes, while the definition of "alluvium" has switched back to an emphasis on sediments deposited by river action. There continues to be disagreement over what other sediment deposits should be included under the term "alluvium." [8]


Most alluvium is Quaternary in age and is often referred to as "cover" because these sediments obscure the underlying bedrock. Most sedimentary material that fills a basin ("basin fill") that is not lithified is typically lumped together as "alluvial". [9] On basis of their ages it is divided into two types:

Alluvium of Pliocene age occurs, for example, in parts of Idaho. [10] Alluvium of late Miocene age occurs, for example, in the valley of the San Joaquin River, California. [11]

See also

Related Research Articles

Sedimentary rock Rock formed by the deposition and subsequent cementation of material

Sedimentary rocks are types of rock that are formed by the accumulation or deposition of mineral or organic particles at the Earth's surface, followed by cementation. Sedimentation is the collective name for processes that cause these particles to settle in place. The particles that form a sedimentary rock are called sediment, and may be composed of geological detritus (minerals) or biological detritus. The geological detritus originated from weathering and erosion of existing rocks, or from the solidification of molten lava blobs erupted by volcanoes. The geological detritus is transported to the place of deposition by water, wind, ice or mass movement, which are called agents of denudation. Biological detritus was formed by bodies and parts of dead aquatic organisms, as well as their fecal mass, suspended in water and slowly piling up on the floor of water bodies. Sedimentation may also occur as dissolved minerals precipitate from water solution.

Sediment Particulate solid matter that is deposited on the surface of land

Sediment is a naturally occurring material that is broken down by processes of weathering and erosion, and is subsequently transported by the action of wind, water, or ice or by the force of gravity acting on the particles. For example, sand and silt can be carried in suspension in river water and on reaching the sea bed deposited by sedimentation; if buried, they may eventually become sandstone and siltstone through lithification.

Placer deposit

In geology, a placer deposit or placer is an accumulation of valuable minerals formed by gravity separation from a specific source rock during sedimentary processes. The name is from the Spanish word placer, meaning "alluvial sand". Placer mining is an important source of gold, and was the main technique used in the early years of many gold rushes, including the California Gold Rush. Types of placer deposits include alluvium, eluvium, beach placers, aeolian placers and paleo-placers.

Alluvial fan Fan- or cone-shaped deposit of sediment crossed and built up by streams

An alluvial fan is an accumulation of sediments shaped like a section of a shallow cone, with its apex at a point source of sediments, such as a narrow canyon emerging from an escarpment. They are characteristic of mountainous terrain in arid to semiarid climates, but are also found in more humid environments subject to intense rainfall and in areas of modern glaciation. They range in area from less than 1 square kilometre (0.39 sq mi) to almost 20,000 square kilometres (7,700 sq mi).

Fluvial processes Processes associated with rivers and streams

In geography and geology, fluvial processes are associated with rivers and streams and the deposits and landforms created by them. When the stream or rivers are associated with glaciers, ice sheets, or ice caps, the term glaciofluvial or fluvioglacial is used.

Landforms are categorized by characteristic physical attributes such as their creating process, shape, elevation, slope, orientation, rock exposure, and soil type.

Conglomerate (geology) Coarse-grained clastic sedimentary rock with mainly rounded to subangular clasts

Conglomerate is a clastic sedimentary rock that is composed of a substantial fraction of rounded to subangular gravel-size clasts. A conglomerate typically contain a matrix of finer grained sediments, such as sand, silt, or clay, which fills the interstices between the clasts. The clasts and matrix are typically cemented by calcium carbonate, iron oxide, silica, or hardened clay.

Alluvial plain Region on which rivers have deposited sediment

An alluvial plain is a largely flat landform created by the deposition of sediment over a long period of time by one or more rivers coming from highland regions, from which alluvial soil forms. A floodplain is part of the process, being the smaller area over which the rivers flood at a particular period of time, whereas the alluvial plain is the larger area representing the region over which the floodplains have shifted over geological time.

Polystrate fossil Creationist term for a fossil that extends through more than one geological stratum

A polystrate fossil is a fossil of a single organism that extends through more than one geological stratum. This term is typically applied to "fossil forests" of upright fossil tree trunks and stumps that have been found worldwide, i.e. in the Eastern United States, Eastern Canada, England, France, Germany, and Australia, typically associated with coal-bearing strata. Within Carboniferous coal-bearing strata, it is also very common to find what are called Stigmaria within the same stratum. Stigmaria are completely absent in post-Carboniferous strata, which contain either coal, polystrate trees, or both. The word polystrate is not a standard geological term. This term is typically found in creationist publications.

Geology of the Death Valley area Geology of the area in California and Nevada

The exposed geology of the Death Valley area presents a diverse and complex set of at least 23 formations of sedimentary units, two major gaps in the geologic record called unconformities, and at least one distinct set of related formations geologists call a group. The oldest rocks in the area that now includes Death Valley National Park are extensively metamorphosed by intense heat and pressure and are at least 1700 million years old. These rocks were intruded by a mass of granite 1400 Ma and later uplifted and exposed to nearly 500 million years of erosion.

Parent material is the underlying geological material in which soil horizons form. Soils typically inherit a great deal of structure and minerals from their parent material, and, as such, are often classified based upon their contents of consolidated or unconsolidated mineral material that has undergone some degree of physical or chemical weathering and the mode by which the materials were most recently transported.

Fluvial terraces are elongated terraces that flank the sides of floodplains and fluvial valleys all over the world. They consist of a relatively level strip of land, called a “tread,” separated from either an adjacent floodplain, other fluvial terraces, or uplands by distinctly steeper strips of land called “risers.” These terraces lie parallel to and above the river channel and its floodplain. Because of the manner in which they form, fluvial terraces are underlain by fluvial sediments of highly variable thickness.

Diluvium Deposits created as a result of catastrophic outbursts of Pleistocene giant glacier-dammed lakes

Historically, diluvium was a term in geology for superficial deposits formed by flood-like operations of water, and so contrasted with alluvium or alluvial deposits formed by slow and steady aqueous agencies. The term was formerly given to the boulder clay deposits, which some early geologists supposed had been caused by the Noachian deluge, a concept known as flood geology or diluvialism.

Clastic rock Sedimentary rocks made of mineral or rock fragments

Clastic rocks are composed of fragments, or clasts, of pre-existing minerals and rock. A clast is a fragment of geological detritus, chunks and smaller grains of rock broken off other rocks by physical weathering. Geologists use the term clastic with reference to sedimentary rocks as well as to particles in sediment transport whether in suspension or as bed load, and in sediment deposits.

Touchet Formation

The Touchet Formation or Touchet beds consist of large quantities of gravel and fine sediment which overlay almost a thousand meters of volcanic basalt of the Columbia River Basalt Group in south-central Washington and north-central Oregon. The beds consist of between 6 and 40 distinct rhythmites – horizontal layers of sediment, each clearly demarcated from the layer below. These Touchet beds are often covered by windblown loess soils which were deposited later; the number of layers varies with location. The beds vary in depth from 330 ft (100 m) at lower elevations where a number of layers can be found to a few extremely thin layers at the maximum elevation where they are observed.

Depositional environment The combination of physical, chemical and biological processes associated with the deposition of a particular type of sediment

In geology, depositional environment or sedimentary environment describes the combination of physical, chemical, and biological processes associated with the deposition of a particular type of sediment and, therefore, the rock types that will be formed after lithification, if the sediment is preserved in the rock record. In most cases, the environments associated with particular rock types or associations of rock types can be matched to existing analogues. However, the further back in geological time sediments were deposited, the more likely that direct modern analogues are not available.

Bedrock river Type of river

A bedrock river is a river that has little to no alluvium mantling the bedrock over which it flows. However, most bedrock rivers are not pure forms; they are a combination of a bedrock channel and an alluvial channel. The way one can distinguish between bedrock rivers and alluvial rivers is through the extent of sediment cover.

Channel patterns are found in rivers, streams, and other bodies of water that transport water from one place to another. Systems of branching river channels dissect most of the sub-aerial landscape, each in a valley proportioned to its size. Whether formed by chance or necessity, by headward erosion or downslope convergence, whether inherited or newly formed. Depending on different geological factors such as weathering, erosion, depositional environment, and sediment type, different types of channel patterns can form.

Lake Monongahela

Lake Monongahela was a proglacial lake in western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio. It formed during the Pre-Illinoian ice epoch when the retreat of the ice sheet northwards blocked the drainage of these valleys to the north. The lake formed south of the ice front continued to rise until it was able to breach a low divide near New Martinsville, West Virginia. The overflow was the beginning of the process which created the modern Ohio River valley.

Lacustrine deposits are sedimentary rock formations which formed in the bottom of ancient lakes. A common characteristic of lacustrine deposits is that a river or stream channel has carried sediment into the basin. Lacustrine deposits form in all lake types including rift graben lakes, oxbow lakes, glacial lakes, and crater lakes. Lacustrine environments, like seas, are large bodies of water. They share similar sedimentary deposits which are mainly composed of low-energy particle sizes. Lacustrine deposits are typically very well sorted with highly laminated beds of silts, clays, and occasionally carbonates. In regards to geologic time, lakes are temporary and once they no longer receive water, they dry up and leave a formation.


  1. 1 2 3 Jackson, Julia A., ed. (1997). "alluvium". Glossary of geology (Fourth ed.). Alexandria, Viriginia: American Geological Institute. ISBN   0922152349.
  2. Glossary of Geological Terms. Retrieved on 2012-02-12.
  3. Geology Dictionary – Alluvial, Aquiclude, Arkose. Geology.Com. Retrieved on 2012-02-12.
  4. Jackson, Julia A., ed. (1997). "alluvial deposit". Glossary of geology (Fourth ed.). Alexandria, Viriginia: American Geological Institute. ISBN   0922152349.
  5. Allaby, Michael (2013). "alluvium". A dictionary of geology and earth sciences (Fourth ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN   9780199653065.
  6. Kidder, Tristram; Liu, Haiwang; Xu, Qinghai; Li, Minglin (July 2012). "The Alluvial Geoarchaeology of the Sanyangzhuang Site on the Yellow River Floodplain, Henan Province, China: THE YELLOW RIVER FLOODPLAIN, HENAN PROVINCE". Geoarchaeology. 27 (4): 324–343. doi:10.1002/gea.21411.
  7. Allaby 2013, "alluvial".
  8. 1 2 3 Miller, Bradley A.; Juilleret, Jérôme (October 2020). "The colluvium and alluvium problem: Historical review and current state of definitions". Earth-Science Reviews. 209: 103316. doi:10.1016/j.earscirev.2020.103316.
  9. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Alluvium"  . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  10. Ames, Dan (1998), "Formation of the Soils" (PDF), Soil Survey of Jerome County and Part of Twin Falls County, Idaho, Natural Resources Conservation Service, United States Department of Agriculture, p. 238
  11. Huber, N. King (1981). Amount and Timing of Late Cenozoic Uplift and Tilt of the Central Sierra Nevada, California—Evidence from the Upper San Joaquin River Basin (USGS Professional Paper 1197) (PDF). Washington D.C.: USGS. p. 13.