Geomorphology

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Badlands incised into shale at the foot of the North Caineville Plateau, Utah, within the pass carved by the Fremont River and known as the Blue Gate. GK Gilbert studied the landscapes of this area in great detail, forming the observational foundation for many of his studies on geomorphology. Badlands at the Blue Gate, Utah.JPG
Badlands incised into shale at the foot of the North Caineville Plateau, Utah, within the pass carved by the Fremont River and known as the Blue Gate. GK Gilbert studied the landscapes of this area in great detail, forming the observational foundation for many of his studies on geomorphology.
Surface of the Earth, showing higher elevations in red. Earth surface NGDC 2000.jpg
Surface of the Earth, showing higher elevations in red.

Geomorphology (from Ancient Greek: γῆ, , "earth"; μορφή, morphḗ, "form"; and λόγος, lógos , "study") is the scientific study of the origin and evolution of topographic and bathymetric features created by physical, chemical or biological processes operating at or near the Earth's surface. Geomorphologists seek to understand why landscapes look the way they do, to understand landform history and dynamics and to predict changes through a combination of field observations, physical experiments and numerical modeling. Geomorphologists work within disciplines such as physical geography, geology, geodesy, engineering geology, archaeology, climatology and geotechnical engineering. This broad base of interests contributes to many research styles and interests within the field.

Ancient Greek Version of the Greek language used from roughly the 9th century BC to the 6th century AD

The ancient Greek language includes the forms of Greek used in Ancient Greece and the ancient world from around the 9th century BC to the 6th century AD. It is often roughly divided into the Archaic period, Classical period, and Hellenistic period. It is antedated in the second millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek and succeeded by Medieval Greek.

<i>Logos</i> Term in Western philosophy, psychology, rhetoric, and religion

Logos is a term in Western philosophy, psychology, rhetoric, and religion derived from a Greek word variously meaning "ground", "plea", "opinion", "expectation", "word", "speech", "account", "reason", "proportion", and "discourse". It became a technical term in Western philosophy beginning with Heraclitus, who used the term for a principle of order and knowledge.

Topography The study of the shape and features of the surface of the Earth and other observable astronomical objects

Topography is the study of the shape and features of land surfaces. The topography of an area could refer to the surface shapes and features themselves, or a description.

Contents

Overview

Waves and water chemistry lead to structural failure in exposed rocks VU0K1843 (39985550).jpg
Waves and water chemistry lead to structural failure in exposed rocks

Earth's surface is modified by a combination of surface processes that shape landscapes, and geologic processes that cause tectonic uplift and subsidence, and shape the coastal geography. Surface processes comprise the action of water, wind, ice, fire, and living things on the surface of the Earth, along with chemical reactions that form soils and alter material properties, the stability and rate of change of topography under the force of gravity, and other factors, such as (in the very recent past) human alteration of the landscape. Many of these factors are strongly mediated by climate. Geologic processes include the uplift of mountain ranges, the growth of volcanoes, isostatic changes in land surface elevation (sometimes in response to surface processes), and the formation of deep sedimentary basins where the surface of the Earth drops and is filled with material eroded from other parts of the landscape. The Earth's surface and its topography therefore are an intersection of climatic, hydrologic, and biologic action with geologic processes, or alternatively stated, the intersection of the Earth's lithosphere with its hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere.

Earth Third planet from the Sun in the Solar System

Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbor life. According to radiometric dating and other sources of evidence, Earth formed over 4.5 billion years ago. Earth's gravity interacts with other objects in space, especially the Sun and the Moon, which is Earth's only natural satellite. Earth orbits around the Sun in 365.26 days, a period known as an Earth year. During this time, Earth rotates about its axis about 366.26 times.

Tectonic uplift The portion of the total geologic uplift of the mean earth surface that is not attributable to an isostatic response to unloading

Tectonic uplift is the portion of the total geologic uplift of the mean Earth surface that is not attributable to an isostatic response to unloading. While isostatic response is important, an increase in the mean elevation of a region can only occur in response to tectonic processes of crustal thickening, changes in the density distribution of the crust and underlying mantle, and flexural support due to the bending of rigid lithosphere.

Subsidence the motion of a surface (usually, the Earths surface) as it shifts downward relative to a datum such as sea-level

Subsidence is the sudden sinking or gradual downward settling of the ground's surface with little or no horizontal motion. The definition of subsidence is not restricted by the rate, magnitude, or area involved in the downward movement. It may be caused by natural processes or by human activities. The former include various karst phenomena, thawing of permafrost, consolidation, oxidation of organic soils, slow crustal warping, normal faulting, caldera subsidence, or withdrawal of fluid lava from beneath a solid crust. The human activities include sub-surface mining or extraction of underground fluids, e. g. petroleum, natural gas, or groundwater. Ground subsidence is of global concern to geologists, geotechnical engineers, surveyors, engineers, urban planners, landowners, and the public in general.

The broad-scale topographies of the Earth illustrate this intersection of surface and subsurface action. Mountain belts are uplifted due to geologic processes. Denudation of these high uplifted regions produces sediment that is transported and deposited elsewhere within the landscape or off the coast. [2] On progressively smaller scales, similar ideas apply, where individual landforms evolve in response to the balance of additive processes (uplift and deposition) and subtractive processes (subsidence and erosion). Often, these processes directly affect each other: ice sheets, water, and sediment are all loads that change topography through flexural isostasy. Topography can modify the local climate, for example through orographic precipitation, which in turn modifies the topography by changing the hydrologic regime in which it evolves. Many geomorphologists are particularly interested in the potential for feedbacks between climate and tectonics, mediated by geomorphic processes. [3]

Denudation processes that cause the wearing away of the Earths surface by moving water, by ice, by wind and by waves, leading to a reduction in elevation and in relief of landforms and of landscapes

In geology, denudation involves the processes that cause the wearing away of the Earth's surface by moving water, by ice, by wind and by waves, leading to a reduction in elevation and in relief of landforms and of landscapes. Endogenous processes such as volcanoes, earthquakes, and plate tectonics uplift and expose continental crust to the exogenous processes of weathering, of erosion, and of mass wasting.

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.

Deposition (geology) Geological process in which sediments, soil and rocks are added to a landform or land mass

Deposition is the geological process in which sediments, soil and rocks are added to a landform or land mass. Wind, ice, water, and gravity transport previously weathered surface material, which, at the loss of enough kinetic energy in the fluid, is deposited, building up layers of sediment.

In addition to these broad-scale questions, geomorphologists address issues that are more specific and/or more local. Glacial geomorphologists investigate glacial deposits such as moraines, eskers, and proglacial lakes, as well as glacial erosional features, to build chronologies of both small glaciers and large ice sheets and understand their motions and effects upon the landscape. Fluvial geomorphologists focus on rivers, how they transport sediment, migrate across the landscape, cut into bedrock, respond to environmental and tectonic changes, and interact with humans. Soils geomorphologists investigate soil profiles and chemistry to learn about the history of a particular landscape and understand how climate, biota, and rock interact. Other geomorphologists study how hillslopes form and change. Still others investigate the relationships between ecology and geomorphology. Because geomorphology is defined to comprise everything related to the surface of the Earth and its modification, it is a broad field with many facets.

Moraine Glacially formed accumulation of unconsolidated debris

A moraine is any glacially formed accumulation of unconsolidated glacial debris that occurs in both currently and formerly glaciated regions on Earth, through geomorphological processes. Moraines are formed from debris previously carried along by a glacier, and normally consist of somewhat rounded particles ranging in size from large boulders to minute glacial flour. Lateral moraines are formed at the side of the ice flow and terminal moraines at the foot, marking the maximum advance of the glacier. Other types of moraine include ground moraines and medial moraines.

Esker Long, winding ridge of stratified sand and gravel associated with former glaciers

An esker, eskar, eschar, or os, sometimes called an asar, osar, or serpent kame, is a long, winding ridge of stratified sand and gravel, examples of which occur in glaciated and formerly glaciated regions of Europe and North America. Eskers are frequently several kilometres long and, because of their peculiar uniform shape, are somewhat like railway embankments.

Lake A body of relatively still water, in a basin surrounded by land

A lake is an area filled with water, localized in a basin, surrounded by land, apart from any river or other outlet that serves to feed or drain the lake. Lakes lie on land and are not part of the ocean, and therefore are distinct from lagoons, and are also larger and deeper than ponds, though there are no official or scientific definitions. Lakes can be contrasted with rivers or streams, which are usually flowing. Most lakes are fed and drained by rivers and streams.

Geomorphologists use a wide range of techniques in their work. These may include fieldwork and field data collection, the interpretation of remotely sensed data, geochemical analyses, and the numerical modelling of the physics of landscapes. Geomorphologists may rely on geochronology, using dating methods to measure the rate of changes to the surface. [4] [5] Terrain measurement techniques are vital to quantitatively describe the form of the Earth's surface, and include differential GPS, remotely sensed digital terrain models and laser scanning, to quantify, study, and to generate illustrations and maps. [6]

Geochronology Science of determining the age of rocks, sediments and fossils

Geochronology is the science of determining the age of rocks, fossils, and sediments using signatures inherent in the rocks themselves. Absolute geochronology can be accomplished through radioactive isotopes, whereas relative geochronology is provided by tools such as palaeomagnetism and stable isotope ratios. By combining multiple geochronological indicators the precision of the recovered age can be improved.

Differential GPS Enhancement to the Global Positioning System providing improved accuracy

A Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) is an enhancement to the Global Positioning System (GPS) which provides improved location accuracy, in the range of operations of each system, from the 15-meter nominal GPS accuracy to about 1-3 cm in case of the best implementations.

Practical applications of geomorphology include hazard assessment (such as landslide prediction and mitigation), river control and stream restoration, and coastal protection. Planetary geomorphology studies landforms on other terrestrial planets such as Mars. Indications of effects of wind, fluvial, glacial, mass wasting, meteor impact, tectonics and volcanic processes are studied. This effort not only helps better understand the geologic and atmospheric history of those planets but also extends geomorphological study of the Earth. Planetary geomorphologists often use Earth analogues to aid in their study of surfaces of other planets. [7]

A natural hazard is a natural phenomenon that might have a negative effect on humans or the environment. Natural hazard events can be classified into two broad categories: geophysical and biological. Geophysical hazards encompass geologic

Landslide type of natural disaster, geological phenomenon

The term landslide or less frequently, landslip, refers to several forms of mass wasting that include a wide range of ground movements, such as rockfalls, deep-seated slope failures, mudflows, and debris flows. Landslides occur in a variety of environments, characterized by either steep or gentle slope gradients, from mountain ranges to coastal cliffs or even underwater, in which case they are called submarine landslides. Gravity is the primary driving force for a landslide to occur, but there are other factors affecting slope stability that produce specific conditions that make a slope prone to failure. In many cases, the landslide is triggered by a specific event, although this is not always identifiable.

Landslide mitigation refers to several man-made activities on slopes with the goal of lessening the effect of landslides. Landslides can be triggered by many, sometimes concomitant causes. In addition to shallow erosion or reduction of shear strength caused by seasonal rainfall, landslides may be triggered by anthropic activities, such as adding excessive weight above the slope, digging at mid-slope or at the foot of the slope. Often, individual phenomenon join together to generate instability over time, which often does not allow a reconstruction of the evolution of a particular landslide. Therefore, landslide hazard mitigation measures are not generally classified according to the phenomenon that might cause a landslide. Instead, they are classified by the sort of slope stabilization method used:

History

"Cono de Arita" at the dry lake Salar de Arizaro on the Atacama Plateau, in northwestern Argentina. The cone itself is a volcanic edifice, representing complex interaction of intrusive igneous rocks with the surrounding salt. Cono de Arita, Salar de Arizaro (Argentina).jpg
"Cono de Arita" at the dry lake Salar de Arizaro on the Atacama Plateau, in northwestern Argentina. The cone itself is a volcanic edifice, representing complex interaction of intrusive igneous rocks with the surrounding salt.
Lake "Velke Hincovo pleso" in High Tatras, Slovakia. The lake occupies an "overdeepening" carved by flowing ice that once occupied this glacial valley. Velke Hincovo pleso.jpg
Lake "Veľké Hincovo pleso" in High Tatras, Slovakia. The lake occupies an "overdeepening" carved by flowing ice that once occupied this glacial valley.

Other than some notable exceptions in antiquity, geomorphology is a relatively young science, growing along with interest in other aspects of the earth sciences in the mid-19th century. This section provides a very brief outline of some of the major figures and events in its development.

Ancient geomorphology

The study of landforms and the evolution of the Earth's surface can be dated back to scholars of Classical Greece. Herodotus argued from observations of soils that the Nile delta was actively growing into the Mediterranean Sea, and estimated its age. [9] Aristotle speculated that due to sediment transport into the sea, eventually those seas would fill while the land lowered. He claimed that this would mean that land and water would eventually swap places, whereupon the process would begin again in an endless cycle. [9]

Another early theory of geomorphology was devised by the polymath Chinese scientist and statesman Shen Kuo (1031–1095). This was based on his observation of marine fossil shells in a geological stratum of a mountain hundreds of miles from the Pacific Ocean. Noticing bivalve shells running in a horizontal span along the cut section of a cliffside, he theorized that the cliff was once the pre-historic location of a seashore that had shifted hundreds of miles over the centuries. He inferred that the land was reshaped and formed by soil erosion of the mountains and by deposition of silt, after observing strange natural erosions of the Taihang Mountains and the Yandang Mountain near Wenzhou. [10] [11] Furthermore, he promoted the theory of gradual climate change over centuries of time once ancient petrified bamboos were found to be preserved underground in the dry, northern climate zone of Yanzhou, which is now modern day Yan'an, Shaanxi province. [11] [12]

Early modern geomorphology

The term geomorphology seems to have been first used by Laumann in an 1858 work written in German. Keith Tinkler has suggested that the word came into general use in English, German and French after John Wesley Powell and W. J. McGee used it during the International Geological Conference of 1891. [13] John Edward Marr in his The Scientific Study of Scenery [14] considered his book as, 'an Introductory Treatise on Geomorphology, a subject which has sprung from the union of Geology and Geography'.

An early popular geomorphic model was the geographical cycle or cycle of erosion model of broad-scale landscape evolution developed by William Morris Davis between 1884 and 1899. [9] It was an elaboration of the uniformitarianism theory that had first been proposed by James Hutton (1726–1797). [15] With regard to valley forms, for example, uniformitarianism posited a sequence in which a river runs through a flat terrain, gradually carving an increasingly deep valley, until the side valleys eventually erode, flattening the terrain again, though at a lower elevation. It was thought that tectonic uplift could then start the cycle over. In the decades following Davis's development of this idea, many of those studying geomorphology sought to fit their findings into this framework, known today as "Davisian". [15] Davis's ideas are of historical importance, but have been largely superseded today, mainly due to their lack of predictive power and qualitative nature. [15]

In the 1920s, Walther Penck developed an alternative model to Davis's. [15] Penck thought that landform evolution was better described as an alternation between ongoing processes of uplift and denudation, as opposed to Davis's model of a single uplift followed by decay. [16] He also emphasised that in many landscapes slope evolution occurs by backwearing of rocks, not by Davisian-style surface lowering, and his science tended to emphasise surface process over understanding in detail the surface history of a given locality. Penck was German, and during his lifetime his ideas were at times rejected vigorously by the English-speaking geomorphology community. [15] His early death, Davis' dislike for his work, and his at-times-confusing writing style likely all contributed to this rejection. [17]

Both Davis and Penck were trying to place the study of the evolution of the Earth's surface on a more generalized, globally relevant footing than it had been previously. In the early 19th century, authors – especially in Europe – had tended to attribute the form of landscapes to local climate, and in particular to the specific effects of glaciation and periglacial processes. In contrast, both Davis and Penck were seeking to emphasize the importance of evolution of landscapes through time and the generality of the Earth's surface processes across different landscapes under different conditions.

During the early 1900s, the study of regional-scale geomorphology was termed "physiography". [18] Physiography later was considered to be a contraction of "physical" and "geography", and therefore synonymous with physical geography, and the concept became embroiled in controversy surrounding the appropriate concerns of that discipline. Some geomorphologists held to a geological basis for physiography and emphasized a concept of physiographic regions while a conflicting trend among geographers was to equate physiography with "pure morphology", separated from its geological heritage.[ citation needed ] In the period following World War II, the emergence of process, climatic, and quantitative studies led to a preference by many earth scientists for the term "geomorphology" in order to suggest an analytical approach to landscapes rather than a descriptive one. [19]

Climatic geomorphology

During the age of New Imperialism in the late 19th century European explorers and scientists traveled across the globe bringing descriptions of landscapes and landforms. As geographical knowledge increased over time these observations were systematized in a search for regional patterns. Climate emerged thus as prime factor for explaining landform distribution at a grand scale. The rise of climatic geomorphology was foreshadowed by the work of Wladimir Köppen, Vasily Dokuchaev and Andreas Schimper. William Morris Davis, the leading geomorphologist of his time, recognized the role of climate by complementing his "normal" temperate climate cycle of erosion with arid and glacial ones. [20] [21] Nevertheless, interest in climatic geomorphology was also a reaction against Davisian geomorphology that was by the mid-20th century considered both un-innovative and dubious. [21] [22] Early climatic geomorphology developed primarily in continental Europe while in the English-speaking world the tendency was not explicit until L.C. Peltier's 1950 publication on a periglacial cycle of erosion. [20]

Climatic geomorphology was criticized in a 1969 review article by process geomorphologist D.R. Stoddart. [21] [23] The criticism by Stoddart proved "devastating" sparking a decline in the popularity of climatic geomorphology in the late 20th century. [21] [23] Stoddart criticized climatic geomorphology for applying supposedly "trivial" methodologies in establishing landform differences between morphoclimatic zones, being linked to Davisian geomorphology and by allegedly neglecting the fact that physical laws governing processes are the same across the globe. [23] In addition some conceptions of climatic geomorphology, like that which holds that chemical weathering is more rapid in tropical climates than in cold climates proved to not be straightforwardly true. [21]

Quantitative and process geomorphology

Part of the Great Escarpment in the Drakensberg, southern Africa. This landscape, with its high altitude plateau being incised into by the steep slopes of the escarpment, was cited by Davis as a classic example of his cycle of erosion. South Africa-Mpumalanga-Gods Window002.jpg
Part of the Great Escarpment in the Drakensberg, southern Africa. This landscape, with its high altitude plateau being incised into by the steep slopes of the escarpment, was cited by Davis as a classic example of his cycle of erosion.

Geomorphology was started to be put on a solid quantitative footing in the middle of the 20th century. Following the early work of Grove Karl Gilbert around the turn of the 20th century, [9] [15] [16] a group of mainly American natural scientists, geologists and hydraulic engineers including William Walden Rubey, Ralph Alger Bagnold, Hans Albert Einstein, Frank Ahnert, John Hack, Luna Leopold, A. Shields, Thomas Maddock, Arthur Strahler, Stanley Schumm, and Ronald Shreve began to research the form of landscape elements such as rivers and hillslopes by taking systematic, direct, quantitative measurements of aspects of them and investigating the scaling of these measurements. [9] [15] [16] [25] [ citation needed ]. These methods began to allow prediction of the past and future behavior of landscapes from present observations, and were later to develop into the modern trend of a highly quantitative approach to geomorphic problems. Many groundbreaking and widely cited early geomorphology studies appeared in the Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, [26] and received only few citations prior to 2000 (they are examples of "sleeping beauties") [27] when a marked increase in quantitative geomorphology research occurred. [28]

Quantitative geomorphology can involve fluid dynamics and solid mechanics, geomorphometry, laboratory studies, field measurements, theoretical work, and full landscape evolution modeling. These approaches are used to understand weathering and the formation of soils, sediment transport, landscape change, and the interactions between climate, tectonics, erosion, and deposition. [29] [30]

In Sweden Filip Hjulström's doctoral thesis, "The River Fyris" (1935), contained one of the first quantitative studies of geomorphological processes ever published. His students followed in the same vein, making quantitative studies of mass transport (Anders Rapp), fluvial transport (Åke Sundborg), delta deposition (Valter Axelsson), and coastal processes (John O. Norrman). This developed into "the Uppsala School of Physical Geography". [31]

Contemporary geomorphology

Today, the field of geomorphology encompasses a very wide range of different approaches and interests. [9] Modern researchers aim to draw out quantitative "laws" that govern Earth surface processes, but equally, recognize the uniqueness of each landscape and environment in which these processes operate. Particularly important realizations in contemporary geomorphology include:

1) that not all landscapes can be considered as either "stable" or "perturbed", where this perturbed state is a temporary displacement away from some ideal target form. Instead, dynamic changes of the landscape are now seen as an essential part of their nature. [32] [33]

2) that many geomorphic systems are best understood in terms of the stochasticity of the processes occurring in them, that is, the probability distributions of event magnitudes and return times. [34] [35] This in turn has indicated the importance of chaotic determinism to landscapes, and that landscape properties are best considered statistically. [36] The same processes in the same landscapes do not always lead to the same end results.

Albeit having its importance diminished climatic geomorphology continues to exist as field of study producing relevant research. More recently concerns over global warming have led to a renewed interest in the field. [21]

Despite considerable criticism the cycle of erosion model has remained part of the science of geomorphology. [37] The model or theory has never been proved wrong, [37] but neither has it been proven. [38] The inherent difficulties of the model have instead made geomorphological research to advance along other lines. [37] In contrast to its disputed status in geomorphology, the cycle of erosion model is a common approach used to establish denudation chronologies, and is thus an important concept in the science of historical geology. [39] While acknowledging its shortcomings modern geomorphologists Andrew Goudie and Karna Lidmar-Bergström have praised it for its elegance and pedagogical value respectively. [40] [41]

Processes

Gorge cut by the Indus river into bedrock, Nanga Parbat region, Pakistan. This is the deepest river canyon in the world. Nanga Parbat itself, the world's 9th highest mountain, is seen in the background. Nanga Parbat Indus Gorge.jpg
Gorge cut by the Indus river into bedrock, Nanga Parbat region, Pakistan. This is the deepest river canyon in the world. Nanga Parbat itself, the world's 9th highest mountain, is seen in the background.

Geomorphically relevant processes generally fall into (1) the production of regolith by weathering and erosion, (2) the transport of that material, and (3) its eventual deposition. Primary surface processes responsible for most topographic features include wind, waves, chemical dissolution, mass wasting, groundwater movement, surface water flow, glacial action, tectonism, and volcanism. Other more exotic geomorphic processes might include periglacial (freeze-thaw) processes, salt-mediated action, changes to the seabed caused by marine currents, seepage of fluids through the seafloor or extraterrestrial impact.

Aeolian processes

Wind-eroded alcove near Moab, Utah MoabAlcove.JPG
Wind-eroded alcove near Moab, Utah

Aeolian processes pertain to the activity of the winds and more specifically, to the winds' ability to shape the surface of the Earth. Winds may erode, transport, and deposit materials, and are effective agents in regions with sparse vegetation and a large supply of fine, unconsolidated sediments. Although water and mass flow tend to mobilize more material than wind in most environments, aeolian processes are important in arid environments such as deserts. [42]

Biological processes

Beaver dams, as this one in Tierra del Fuego, constitute a specific form of zoogeomorphology, a type of biogeomorphology. Beaver dam in Tierra del Fuego.jpg
Beaver dams, as this one in Tierra del Fuego, constitute a specific form of zoogeomorphology, a type of biogeomorphology.

The interaction of living organisms with landforms, or biogeomorphologic processes, can be of many different forms, and is probably of profound importance for the terrestrial geomorphic system as a whole. Biology can influence very many geomorphic processes, ranging from biogeochemical processes controlling chemical weathering, to the influence of mechanical processes like burrowing and tree throw on soil development, to even controlling global erosion rates through modulation of climate through carbon dioxide balance. Terrestrial landscapes in which the role of biology in mediating surface processes can be definitively excluded are extremely rare, but may hold important information for understanding the geomorphology of other planets, such as Mars. [43]

Fluvial processes

Seif and barchan dunes in the Hellespontus region on the surface of Mars. Dunes are mobile landforms created by the transport of large volumes of sand by wind. Eroding Mesas Forming Seif and Barchan Dunes in Hellespontus region.jpg
Seif and barchan dunes in the Hellespontus region on the surface of Mars. Dunes are mobile landforms created by the transport of large volumes of sand by wind.

Rivers and streams are not only conduits of water, but also of sediment. The water, as it flows over the channel bed, is able to mobilize sediment and transport it downstream, either as bed load, suspended load or dissolved load. The rate of sediment transport depends on the availability of sediment itself and on the river's discharge. [44] Rivers are also capable of eroding into rock and creating new sediment, both from their own beds and also by coupling to the surrounding hillslopes. In this way, rivers are thought of as setting the base level for large-scale landscape evolution in nonglacial environments. [45] [46] Rivers are key links in the connectivity of different landscape elements.

As rivers flow across the landscape, they generally increase in size, merging with other rivers. The network of rivers thus formed is a drainage system. These systems take on four general patterns: dendritic, radial, rectangular, and trellis. Dendritic happens to be the most common, occurring when the underlying stratum is stable (without faulting). Drainage systems have four primary components: drainage basin, alluvial valley, delta plain, and receiving basin. Some geomorphic examples of fluvial landforms are alluvial fans, oxbow lakes, and fluvial terraces.

Glacial processes

Features of a glacial landscape Glacial landscape LMB.png
Features of a glacial landscape

Glaciers, while geographically restricted, are effective agents of landscape change. The gradual movement of ice down a valley causes abrasion and plucking of the underlying rock. Abrasion produces fine sediment, termed glacial flour. The debris transported by the glacier, when the glacier recedes, is termed a moraine. Glacial erosion is responsible for U-shaped valleys, as opposed to the V-shaped valleys of fluvial origin. [47]

The way glacial processes interact with other landscape elements, particularly hillslope and fluvial processes, is an important aspect of Plio-Pleistocene landscape evolution and its sedimentary record in many high mountain environments. Environments that have been relatively recently glaciated but are no longer may still show elevated landscape change rates compared to those that have never been glaciated. Nonglacial geomorphic processes which nevertheless have been conditioned by past glaciation are termed paraglacial processes. This concept contrasts with periglacial processes, which are directly driven by formation or melting of ice or frost. [48]

Hillslope processes

Talus cones on the north shore of Isfjorden, Svalbard, Norway. Talus cones are accumulations of coarse hillslope debris at the foot of the slopes producing the material. TalusConesIsfjorden.jpg
Talus cones on the north shore of Isfjorden, Svalbard, Norway. Talus cones are accumulations of coarse hillslope debris at the foot of the slopes producing the material.
The Ferguson Slide is an active landslide in the Merced River canyon on California State Highway 140, a primary access road to Yosemite National Park. Ferguson-slide.jpg
The Ferguson Slide is an active landslide in the Merced River canyon on California State Highway 140, a primary access road to Yosemite National Park.

Soil, regolith, and rock move downslope under the force of gravity via creep, slides, flows, topples, and falls. Such mass wasting occurs on both terrestrial and submarine slopes, and has been observed on Earth, Mars, Venus, Titan and Iapetus.

Ongoing hillslope processes can change the topology of the hillslope surface, which in turn can change the rates of those processes. Hillslopes that steepen up to certain critical thresholds are capable of shedding extremely large volumes of material very quickly, making hillslope processes an extremely important element of landscapes in tectonically active areas. [49]

On the Earth, biological processes such as burrowing or tree throw may play important roles in setting the rates of some hillslope processes. [50]

Igneous processes

Both volcanic (eruptive) and plutonic (intrusive) igneous processes can have important impacts on geomorphology. The action of volcanoes tends to rejuvenize landscapes, covering the old land surface with lava and tephra, releasing pyroclastic material and forcing rivers through new paths. The cones built by eruptions also build substantial new topography, which can be acted upon by other surface processes. Plutonic rocks intruding then solidifying at depth can cause both uplift or subsidence of the surface, depending on whether the new material is denser or less dense than the rock it displaces.

Tectonic processes

Tectonic effects on geomorphology can range from scales of millions of years to minutes or less. The effects of tectonics on landscape are heavily dependent on the nature of the underlying bedrock fabric that more or less controls what kind of local morphology tectonics can shape. Earthquakes can, in terms of minutes, submerge large areas of land creating new wetlands. Isostatic rebound can account for significant changes over hundreds to thousands of years, and allows erosion of a mountain belt to promote further erosion as mass is removed from the chain and the belt uplifts. Long-term plate tectonic dynamics give rise to orogenic belts, large mountain chains with typical lifetimes of many tens of millions of years, which form focal points for high rates of fluvial and hillslope processes and thus long-term sediment production.

Features of deeper mantle dynamics such as plumes and delamination of the lower lithosphere have also been hypothesised to play important roles in the long term (> million year), large scale (thousands of km) evolution of the Earth's topography (see dynamic topography). Both can promote surface uplift through isostasy as hotter, less dense, mantle rocks displace cooler, denser, mantle rocks at depth in the Earth. [51] [52]

Marine processes

Marine processes are those associated with the action of waves, marine currents and seepage of fluids through the seafloor. Mass wasting and submarine landsliding are also important processes for some aspects of marine geomorphology. [53] Because ocean basins are the ultimate sinks for a large fraction of terrestrial sediments, depositional processes and their related forms (e.g., sediment fans, deltas) are particularly important as elements of marine geomorphology.

Scales

Different geomorphological processes dominate at different spatial and temporal scales. Moreover, scales on which processes occur may determine the reactivity or otherwise of landscapes to changes in driving forces such as climate or tectonics. [33] These ideas are key to the study of geomorphology today.

To help categorize landscape scales some geomorphologists might use the following taxonomy:

Overlap with other fields

There is a considerable overlap between geomorphology and other fields. Deposition of material is extremely important in sedimentology. Weathering is the chemical and physical disruption of earth materials in place on exposure to atmospheric or near surface agents, and is typically studied by soil scientists and environmental chemists, but is an essential component of geomorphology because it is what provides the material that can be moved in the first place. Civil and environmental engineers are concerned with erosion and sediment transport, especially related to canals, slope stability (and natural hazards), water quality, coastal environmental management, transport of contaminants, and stream restoration. Glaciers can cause extensive erosion and deposition in a short period of time, making them extremely important entities in the high latitudes and meaning that they set the conditions in the headwaters of mountain-born streams; glaciology therefore is important in geomorphology.

See also

Related Research Articles

Erosion Processes which remove soil and rock from one place on the Earths crust, then transport it to another location where it is deposited

In earth science, erosion is the action of surface processes that removes soil, rock, or dissolved material from one location on the Earth's crust, and then transports it to another location. This natural process is caused by the dynamic activity of erosive agents, that is, water, ice (glaciers), snow, air (wind), plants, animals, and humans. In accordance with these agents, erosion is sometimes divided into water erosion, glacial erosion, snow erosion, wind (aeolic) erosion, zoogenic erosion, and anthropogenic erosion. The particulate breakdown of rock or soil into clastic sediment is referred to as physical or mechanical erosion; this contrasts with chemical erosion, where soil or rock material is removed from an area by its dissolving into a solvent, followed by the flow away of that solution. Eroded sediment or solutes may be transported just a few millimetres, or for thousands of kilometres.

Peneplain A low-relief plain formed by protracted erosion

In geomorphology and geology, a peneplain is a low-relief plain formed by protracted erosion. This is the definition in the broadest of terms, albeit with frequency the usage of peneplain is meant to imply the representation of a near-final stage of fluvial erosion during times of extended tectonic stability. Peneplains are sometimes associated with the cycle of erosion theory of William Morris Davis, but Davis and other workers have also used the term in a purely descriptive manner without any theory or particular genesis attached.

Raised beach A beach or wave-cut platform raised above the shoreline by a relative fall in the sea level

A raised beach, coastal terrace, or perched coastline is a relatively flat, horizontal or gently inclined surface of marine origin, mostly an old abrasion platform which has been lifted out of the sphere of wave activity. Thus, it lies above or under the current sea level, depending on the time of its formation. It is bounded by a steeper ascending slope on the landward side and a steeper descending slope on the seaward side. Due to its generally flat shape it is often used for anthropogenic structures such as settlements and infrastructure.

Terrain Vertical and horizontal dimension and shape of land surface

Terrain or relief involves the vertical and horizontal dimensions of land surface. The term bathymetry is used to describe underwater relief, while hypsometry studies terrain relative to sea level. The Latin word terra means "earth."

Base level Lowest limit for erosion processes

In geology and geomorphology a base level is the lower limit for an erosion process. The modern term was introduced by John Wesley Powell in 1875. The term was subsequently appropriated by William Morris Davis who used it in his cycle of erosion theory. The "ultimate base level" is the plane that results from projection of the sea level under landmasses. It is to this base level that topography tends to approach due to erosion, eventually forming a peneplain close to the end of a cycle of erosion.

The geographic cycle or cycle of erosion is an idealized model that explains the development of relief in landscapes. The model starts with the erosion that follows uplift of land above a base level and ends – if conditions allow – in the formation of a peneplain. Landscapes that show evidence of more than one cycle of erosion are termed "polycyclical". The cycle of erosion and some of its associated concepts have, despite popularity, been a subject of much criticism.

Terrace (geology) A step-like landform

In geology, a terrace is a step-like landform. A terrace consists of a flat or gently sloping geomorphic surface, called a tread, that is typically bounded one side by a steeper ascending slope, which is called a "riser" or "scarp." The tread and the steeper descending slope together constitute the terrace. Terraces can also consist of a tread bounded on all sides by a descending riser or scarp. A narrow terrace is often called a bench.

Paraglacial means unstable conditions caused by a significant relaxation time in processes and geomorphic patterns following glacial climates. Rates of landscape change and sediment output from the system are typically elevated during paraglacial landscape response.

Abrasion (geology) geological process

Abrasion is a process of erosion which occurs when material being transported wears away at a surface over time. It is the process of friction caused by scuffing, scratching, wearing down, marring, and rubbing away of materials. The intensity of abrasion depends on the hardness, concentration, velocity and mass of the moving particles. Abrasion generally occurs four ways. Glaciation slowly grinds rocks picked up by ice against rock surfaces. Solid objects transported in river channels make abrasive surface contact with the bed and walls. Objects transported in waves breaking on coastlines cause abrasion. And, finally, abrasion can be caused by wind transporting sand or small stones against surface rocks.

Erosion and tectonics

The interaction between erosion and tectonics has been a topic of debate since the early 1990s. While the tectonic effects on surface processes such as erosion have long been recognized, the opposite has only recently been addressed. The primary questions surrounding this topic are what types of interactions exist between erosion and tectonics and what are the implications of these interactions. While this is still a matter of debate, one thing is clear, the Earth's landscape is a product of two factors: tectonics, which can create topography and maintain relief through surface and rock uplift, and climate, which mediates the erosional processes that wear away upland areas over time. The interaction of these processes can form, modify, or destroy geomorphic features on the Earth's surface.

A landscape evolution model is a physically based numerical model that simulates changing terrain over the course of time. This can be due to glacial erosion and deposition; erosion, sediment transport, and deposition in fluvial systems such as rivers; regolith production; the movement of material on hillslopes; more intermittent events such as rockfalls, debris flows, landslides, and other surface processes. This can also be due to surface uplift and/or subsidence. A typical landscape evolution model takes many of these factors into account.

River terraces (tectonic–climatic interaction)

Terraces can be formed in many ways and in several geologic and environmental settings. By studying the size, shape, and age of terraces, one can determine the geologic processes that formed them. When terraces have the same age and/or shape over a region, it is often indicative that a large-scale geologic or environmental mechanism is responsible. Tectonic uplift and climate change are viewed as dominant mechanisms that can shape the earth’s surface through erosion. River terraces can be influenced by one or both of these forcing mechanisms and therefore can be used to study variation in tectonics, climate, and erosion, and how these processes interact.

Hydrogeomorphology

Hydrogeomorphology has been defined as “an interdisciplinary science that focuses on the interaction and linkage of hydrologic processes with landforms or earth materials and the interaction of geomorphic processes with surface and subsurface water in temporal and spatial dimensions.” The term 'hydro-geomorphology’ designates the study of landforms caused by the action of water. By this definition hydro-geomorphology is inseparable part of geomorphology moreover fluvial geomorphology, because water is one of the most important agents in forming and shaping of landforms. From the groundwater point of view integration of geological, structural and hydrological data with hydro-geomorphologic data is very much useful in finding out the groundwater potential zones with fruitful results. The science relating to the geographical, geological, and hydrological aspects of water bodies and to changes to these aspects in response to low variations and to natural and human caused events, such as heavy rainfall or channel straightening is the hydro-geomorphology.

Periglaciation

Periglaciation describes geomorphic processes that result from seasonal thawing of snow in areas of permafrost, the runoff from which refreezes in ice wedges and other structures. "Periglacial" suggests an environment located on the margin of past glaciers. However, freeze and thaw cycles influence landscapes outside areas of past glaciation. Therefore, periglacial environments are anywhere that freezing and thawing modify the landscape in a significant manner.

In geology, the term relict refers to structures or minerals from a parent rock that did not undergo metamorphic change when the surrounding rock did, or to rock that survived a destructive geologic process.

A geomorphological system said to be in dynamic steady state has values that oscillate between maxima and minima around a central mean value.

River incision narrow erosion caused by a river or stream

River incision is the narrow erosion caused by a river or stream that is far from its base level. River incision is common after tectonic uplift of the landscape. Incision by multiple rivers result in a dissected landscape, for example a dissected plateau. River Incision is the natural process by which a river cuts downward into its bed, deepening the active channel. Though it is a natural process, it can be accelerated rapidly by human factors including land use changes such as timber harvest, mining, agriculture, and road and dam construction. The rate of incision is a function of basal shear-stress. Shear stress is increased by factors such as sediment in the water, which increase its density. Shear stress is proportional to water mass, gravity, and Sw, where t= Shear Stress (N/m2), g= Weight Density of Water, D = Average water depth, and Sw = Water Surface slope. Increases in slope, depth, or density of water increase the water’s potential to cause erosion.

Climatic geomorphology

Climatic geomorphology is the study of the role of climate in shaping landforms and the earth-surface processes. An approach used in climatic geomorphology is to study relict landforms to infer ancient climates. Being often concerned about past climates climatic geomorphology considered sometimes to be an aspect of historical geology. Since landscape features in one region might have evolved under climates different from those of the present, studying climatically disparate regions might help understand present-day landscapes. For example, Julius Büdel studied both cold-climate processes in Svalbard and weathering processes in tropical India to understand the origin of the relief of Central Europe, which he argued was a palimpsest of landforms formed at different times and under different climates.

Hillslope evolution is the changes in the erosion rates, erosion styles and form of slopes of hills and mountains over time.

Legacy sediment (LS) is depositional bodies of sediment inherited from the increase of human activities since the Neolithic. These include a broad range of land use and land cover changes, such as agricultural clearance, lumbering and clearance of native vegetation, mining, road building, urbanization, as well as alterations brought to river systems in the form of dams and other engineering structures meant to control and regulate natural fluvial processes. The concept of LS is used in geomorphology, ecology, as well as in water quality and toxicological studies.

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Further reading