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Calchaqui Valleys in Argentina Salta-VallesCalchaquies-P3140151.JPG
Calchaquí Valleys in Argentina
U-shaped valley in Glacier National Park, Montana, United States Glacier park1.jpg
U-shaped valley in Glacier National Park, Montana, United States
Romsdalen in Western Norway is an almost vertical
valley. Romsdalen.jpg
Romsdalen in Western Norway is an almost vertical valley.
Fljotsdalur in East Iceland, a rather flat valley Fljotsdalur.jpg
Fljótsdalur in East Iceland, a rather flat valley
The Frades Valley in the mountainous region of Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil Vale dos Frades.jpg
The Frades Valley in the mountainous region of Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil
Baemsagol valley of Jirisan, Korea Baemsagol MS3812.JPG
Baemsagol valley of Jirisan, Korea

A valley is an elongated low area often running between hills or mountains, which will typically contain a river or stream running from one end to the other. Most valleys are formed by erosion of the land surface by rivers or streams over a very long period of time. Some valleys are formed through erosion by glacial ice. These glaciers may remain present in valleys in high mountain or polar areas. At lower latitudes and altitudes, these glacially-formed valleys may have been created or enlarged during ice ages but now are ice-free and occupied by streams or rivers. In desert areas, valleys may be entirely dry or carry a watercourse only rarely. In areas of limestone bedrock, dry valleys may also result from drainage taking place underground rather than at the surface. Rift valleys arise principally from earth movements, rather than erosion. Many different types of valley are described by geographers, using terms that may be global in use or else applied only locally.


Formation of valleys

Valleys may arise through several different processes. Most commonly, they arise from erosion over long periods of time by moving water and are known as river valleys. Typically small valleys containing streams feed into larger valleys which in turn feed into larger valleys again, eventually reaching the ocean or perhaps an internal drainage basin. In polar areas and at high altitude, valleys may be eroded by glaciers; these typically have a U-shaped profile in cross-section, in contrast to river valleys, which tend to have a V-shaped profile. Other valleys may arise principally through tectonic processes such as rifting. It is possible for all three processes to contribute to the development of a valley over geological time.

River valleys

Valley of Palakaria river springing from Vitosha Mountain, seen in the background, in Bulgaria Palakaria-and-Belchin-3.jpg
Valley of Palakaria river springing from Vitosha Mountain, seen in the background, in Bulgaria

The development of a river valley is affected by the character of the bedrock over which the river or stream flows, the elevational difference between its top and bottom, and indeed the climate. Typically the flow will increase downstream and the gradient will decrease. In the upper valley, the stream will most effectively erode its bed through corrasion to produce a steep-sided V-shaped valley. The presence of more resistant rock bands, of geological faults, fractures, and folds may determine the course of the stream and result in a twisting course with interlocking spurs. In the middle valley, as numerous streams have coalesced, the valley is typically wider, the flow slower and both erosion and deposition may take place. More lateral erosion takes place in the middle section of a river's course, as strong currents on the outside of its curve eats at the bank. Conversely, deposition may take place on the inside of curves where the current is much slacker, the process leading to the river assuming a meandering character. In the lower valley, gradients are lowest, meanders may be much broader and a broader floodplain may result. Deposition dominates over erosion. [1] [2] A typical river basin or drainage basin will incorporate each of these different types of valley.

Some sections of stream or river valleys may have vertically incised their course to such an extent that the valley they occupy is best described as a gorge, ravine or canyon. Rapid down-cutting may result from localised uplift of the land surface or a rejuvenation of the watercourse as a result for example of a reduction in the base level to which the river is eroded, e.g. lowered global sea level during an ice age. Such rejuvenation may also result in the production of river terraces. [3]

Glacial valleys

U-shaped valley on the Afon Fathew near Dolgoch, Wales Tal-y-llyn-valley-Dolgoch-01.jpg
U-shaped valley on the Afon Fathew near Dolgoch, Wales
Yosemite Valley from an airplane YosemiteFromPlane.JPG
Yosemite Valley from an airplane
A glaciated valley in the Mount Hood Wilderness showing a characteristic U-shape, the bottom's rocky 'rubble' accretion and the broad shoulders Glacial Valley MtHoodWilderness.jpg
A glaciated valley in the Mount Hood Wilderness showing a characteristic U-shape, the bottom's rocky 'rubble' accretion and the broad shoulders

There are various forms of valley associated with glaciation. True glacial valleys are those that have been cut by a glacier which may or may not still occupy the valley at the present day. Such valleys may also be known as glacial troughs. They typically have a U-shaped cross-section and are characteristic landforms of mountain areas where glaciation has occurred or continues to take place. [4]

The uppermost part of a glacial valley frequently consists of one or more 'armchair-shaped' hollows, or 'cirques', excavated by the rotational movement downslope of a cirque glacier. During glacial periods, for example the Pleistocene ice ages, it is in these locations that glaciers initially form and then, as the ice age proceeds extend downhill through valleys which have previously been shaped by water rather than ice. Abrasion by the movement of ice and particularly by rock material embedded within it causes the widening and deepening of the valley to produce the characteristic U or trough shape relatively steep, even vertical sides and a relatively flat bottom. Interlocking spurs associated with the development of river valleys are preferentially eroded to produce truncated spurs, typical of glaciated mountain landscapes. The upper end of the trough below the ice-contributing cirques may be a trough-end. Valley steps (or 'rock steps) can result from differing erosion rates due to both the nature of the bedrock (hardness and jointing for example) and the power of the moving ice. In places, a rock basin may be excavated which may later be filled with water to form a ribbon lake or else by sediments. Such features are found in coastal areas as fjords. The shape of the valley which results from all of these influences may only become visible upon the recession of the glacier that forms it. [5] A river or [stream may remain in the valley. This replaces the original stream or river and is known as a misfit stream because it is smaller than one would expect given the size of its valley.

A panoramic view of two merging U-shaped valleys in Pirin mountain, Bulgaria Pirin ezera Pano Chairski ezera.jpg
A panoramic view of two merging U-shaped valleys in Pirin mountain, Bulgaria

Other interesting glacially carved valleys include:


A tunnel valley is a large, long, U-shaped valley originally cut under the glacial ice near the margin of continental ice sheets such as that now covering Antarctica and formerly covering portions of all continents during past glacial ages. [6]

A tunnel valley can be up to 100 km (62 mi) long, 4 km (2.5 mi) wide, and 400 m (1,300 ft) deep (its depth may vary along its length).

Tunnel valleys were formed by subglacial water erosion. They once served as subglacial drainage pathways carrying large volumes of melt water. Their cross-sections exhibit steep-sided flanks similar to fjord walls, and their flat bottoms are typical of subglacial glacial erosion.


In northern Central Europe, the Scandinavian ice sheet during the various ice ages advanced slightly uphill against the lie of the land. As a result, its meltwaters flowed parallel to the ice margin to reach the North Sea basin, forming huge, flat valleys known as Urstromtäler . Unlike the other forms of glacial valley, these were formed by glacial meltwaters.

Hooker Valley in Aoraki-Mount Cook National Park.jpg
New Zealand's Hooker Valley at Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, with Hooker Glacier's terminus at Hooker Lake in the background

Transition forms & shoulders

Look from Paria View to a valley in Bryce Canyon, Utah, with very striking shoulders Paria View at Bryce Canyon NP.jpg
Look from Paria View to a valley in Bryce Canyon, Utah, with very striking shoulders

Depending on the topography, the rock types and the climate, a variety of transitional forms between V-, U- and plain[ clarification needed ] valleys can form. Their bottoms can be broad or narrow, but characteristic is also the type of valley shoulder [ clarification needed ]. The broader a mountain valley, the lower its shoulders are located in most cases. An important exception are canyons where the shoulder almost is near the top of the valley's slope. In the Alps – e.g. the Tyrolean Inn valley – the shoulders are quite low (100–200 meters above the bottom). Many villages are located here (esp. at the sunny side) because the climate is very mild: even in winter when the valley's floor is completely filled with fog, these villages are in sunshine.

In some stress-tectonic regions of the Rockies or the Alps (e.g. Salzburg), the side valleys are parallel to each other, and are hanging. Smaller streams flow into rivers as deep canyons or waterfalls.

Hanging tributary

Bridal Veil Falls in Yosemite National Park flowing from a hanging valley. Closeup of Bridalveil Fall seen from Tunnel View in Yosemite NP.JPG
Bridal Veil Falls in Yosemite National Park flowing from a hanging valley.
Hanging valley, Ibar (lake) valley, Rila Mountain, Bulgaria Ib'rsko ezero.jpg
Hanging valley, Ibar (lake) valley, Rila Mountain, Bulgaria

A hanging valley is a tributary valley that is higher than the main valley. They are most commonly associated with U-shaped valleys, where a tributary glacier flows into a glacier of larger volume. The main glacier erodes a deep U-shaped valley with nearly vertical sides, while the tributary glacier, with a smaller volume of ice, makes a shallower U-shaped valley. Since the surfaces of the glaciers were originally at the same elevation, the shallower valley appears to be 'hanging' above the main valley. Often, waterfalls form at or near the outlet of the upper valley. [7]

Hanging valleys also occur in fjord systems under water. The branches of Sognefjord aree much shallower than the main fjord. The mouth of Fjærlandsfjord is about 400 meters deep while the main fjord nearby is 1200 meters deep. The mouth of Ikjefjord is only 50 meters deep while the main fjord is around 1300 meters at the same point. [8]

Glaciated terrain is not the only site of hanging streams and valleys. Hanging valleys are also simply the product of varying rates of erosion of the main valley and the tributary valleys. The varying rates of erosion are associated with the composition of the adjacent rocks in the different valley locations. The tributary valleys are eroded and deepened by glaciers or erosion at a slower rate than that of the main valley floor; thus the difference in the two valleys' depth increases over time. The tributary valley, composed of more resistant rock, then hangs over the main valley. [9]


Trough-shaped valleys also form in regions of heavy topographic denudation. By contrast with glacial U-shaped valleys, there is less downward and sideways erosion. The severe downslope denudation results in gently sloping valley sides; their transition to the actual valley bottom is unclear. Trough-shaped valleys occur mainly in periglacial regions and in tropical regions of variable wetness. Both climates are dominated by heavy denudation.[ citation needed ]


Box valleys have wide, relatively level floors and steep sides. They are common in periglacial areas and occur in mid-latitudes, but also occur in tropical and arid regions. [10]


Rift valleys, such as the Albertine Rift and Gregory Rift are formed by the expansion of the Earth's crust due to tectonic activity beneath the Earth's surface.

There are many terms used for different sorts of valleys. They include:

Similar geographical features such as gullies, chines and kloofs, are not usually referred to as valleys.

Regional terms for valley

The terms corrie, glen and strath are all anglicisations of Gaelic terms and are commonly encountered in place-names in Scotland and other areas where Gaelic was once widespread. Strath signifies a wide valley between hills, the floor of which is either level or slopes gently. [12] A glen is a river valley which is steeper and narrower than a strath. [13] A corrie is a basin-shaped hollow in a mountain. [14] Each of these terms also occurs in parts of the world formerly colonised by Britain. Corrie is used more widely by geographers as a synonym for (glacial) cirque as is the word cwm borrowed from Welsh. [15]

The word dale occurs widely in place-names in the north of England and, to a lesser extent, in southern Scotland. As a generic name for a type of valley, the term typically refers to a wide valley though there are many much smaller stream valleys within the Yorkshire Dales, which are named (specific name) Dale. [16] Clough is a word in common use in northern England for a narrow valley with steep sides. [17] Gill is used to describe a ravine containing a mountain stream in Cumbria and the Pennines. [18] The term combe (also encountered as coombe) is widespread in southern England and describes a short valley set into a hillside. [19] Other terms for small valleys such as hope, dean, slade, slack and bottom are commonly encountered in place-names in various parts of England but are no longer in general use as synonyms for valley.

The term vale is used in England and Wales to describe a wide river valley, usually with a particularly wide flood plain or flat valley bottom. In Southern England, vales commonly occur between the outcrops of different relatively erosion-resistant rock formations, where less resistant rock, often claystone has been eroded. An example is the Vale of White Horse in Oxfordshire.


Usually the bottom of a main valley is broad – independent of the U or V shape. It typically ranges from about one to ten kilometers in width and is commonly filled with mountain sediments. The shape of the floor can be flat or terraced.

Historic siting of villages within the mainstem valleys, however, have chiefly considered the potential of flooding.


Indus River running through the Kohistan Valley in Pakistan Indus Kohistan Pakistan.jpg
Indus River running through the Kohistan Valley in Pakistan

A hollow is a small valley or dry stream bed. This term is commonly used in Ireland, New England, Appalachia, and the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri to describe such geographic features.

Human settlement

Some of the first human complex societies originated in river valleys, such as that of the Nile, Tigris-Euphrates, Indus, Ganges, Yangtze, Yellow River, Mississippi, and arguably Amazon. In prehistory, the rivers were used as a source of fresh water and food (fish and game), as well as a place to wash and a sewer. The proximity of water moderated temperature extremes and provided a source for irrigation, stimulating the development of agriculture. Most of the first civilizations developed from these river valley communities.

Notable examples

The Brahmaputra River Valley in Assam, India Delta del Ganges-Brahmaputra (NASA Terra-Modis) (4996898562).jpg
The Brahmaputra River Valley in Assam, India
The Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand, India Valley of flowers uttaranchal full view.JPG
The Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand, India
The Harau Valley in West Sumatra, Indonesia Harau valley.jpg
The Harau Valley in West Sumatra, Indonesia
Hell's Gate, British Columbia Hells Gate.jpg
Hell's Gate, British Columbia
A view of Orosi, Costa Rica DirkvdM orosi.jpg
A view of Orosí, Costa Rica
The Gudbrandsdalen in Eastern Norway near Gala Gudbrandsdalen sett nordover fra vegen opp mot Gala - Gudbrandsdal Valley Norway.JPG
The Gudbrandsdalen in Eastern Norway near Gålå
Kerio Valley when viewed from Anin, near Iten Facing kerio valley from anin.jpg
Kerio Valley when viewed from Anin, near Iten





North America

South America


Extraterrestrial valleys

Numerous elongate depressions have been identified on the surface of Mars, Venus, the Moon, and other planets and their satellites and are known as valles (singular: 'vallis'). Deeper valleys with steeper sides (akin to canyons) on certain of these bodies are known as chasmata (singular: 'chasma'). Long narrow depressions are referred to as fossae (singular: 'fossa'). [20] These are the Latin terms for 'valley, 'gorge' and 'ditch' respectively. The German term 'rille' or Latin term 'rima' (signifying 'cleft') is used for certain other elongate depressions on the Moon. [21]

See also:

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. Erosion is distinct from weathering which involves no movement. Removal of rock or soil as 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 dissolution. Eroded sediment or solutes may be transported just a few millimetres, or for thousands of kilometres.

Glacier Persistent body of ice that is moving under its own weight

A glacier is a persistent body of dense ice that is constantly moving under its own weight. A glacier forms where the accumulation of snow exceeds its ablation over many years, often centuries. Glaciers slowly deform and flow under stresses induced by their weight, creating crevasses, seracs, and other distinguishing features. They also abrade rock and debris from their substrate to create landforms such as cirques, moraines, or fjords. Glaciers form only on land and are distinct from the much thinner sea ice and lake ice that forms on the surface of bodies of water.

Fjord A long, narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs, created by glacial activity

In geology, a fjord or fiord is a long, narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs, created by a glacier. There are many fjords on the coasts of Alaska, Antarctica, British Columbia, Chile, Denmark, Greenland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Ireland, Kamchatka, the Kerguelen Islands, New Zealand, Norway, Novaya Zemlya, Labrador, Nunavut, Newfoundland, Quebec, Scotland, South Georgia Island, Staten Island (Argentina), and Washington state. Norway's coastline is estimated at 29,000 kilometres (18,000 mi) with nearly 1,200 fjords, but only 2,500 kilometres (1,600 mi) when fjords are excluded.

Canyon Deep ravine between cliffs

A canyon or gorge is a deep cleft between escarpments or cliffs resulting from weathering and the erosive activity of a river over geologic time scales. Rivers have a natural tendency to cut through underlying surfaces, eventually wearing away rock layers as sediments are removed downstream. A river bed will gradually reach a baseline elevation, which is the same elevation as the body of water into which the river drains. The processes of weathering and erosion will form canyons when the river's headwaters and estuary are at significantly different elevations, particularly through regions where softer rock layers are intermingled with harder layers more resistant to weathering.

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

Geology of the Yosemite area

The exposed geology of the Yosemite area includes primarily granitic rocks with some older metamorphic rock. The first rocks were laid down in Precambrian times, when the area around Yosemite National Park was on the edge of a very young North American continent. The sediment that formed the area first settled in the waters of a shallow sea, and compressive forces from a subduction zone in the mid-Paleozoic fused the seabed rocks and sediments, appending them to the continent. Heat generated from the subduction created island arcs of volcanoes that were also thrust into the area of the park. In time, the igneous and sedimentary rocks of the area were later heavily metamorphosed.

Gully Landform created by running water eroding sharply into soil

A gully is a landform created by running water, eroding sharply into soil, typically on a hillside. Gullies resemble large ditches or small valleys, but are metres to tens of metres in depth and width. When the gully formation is in process, the water flow rate can be substantial, causing a significant deep cutting action into soil.

Arête A narrow ridge of rock which separates two valleys

An arête is a narrow ridge of rock which separates two valleys. It is typically formed when two glaciers erode parallel U-shaped valleys. Arêtes can also form when two glacial cirques erode headwards towards one another, although frequently this results in a saddle-shaped pass, called a col. The edge is then sharpened by freeze-thaw weathering, and the slope on either side of the arête steepened through mass wasting events and the erosion of exposed, unstable rock. The word ‘arête’ is actually French for edge or ridge; similar features in the Alps are often described with the German equivalent term Grat.

Pyramidal peak Angular, sharply pointed mountainous peak

A pyramidal peak, sometimes called a glacial horn in extreme cases, is an angular, sharply pointed mountain peak which results from the cirque erosion due to multiple glaciers diverging from a central point. Pyramidal peaks are often examples of nunataks.

Cirque An amphitheatre-like valley formed by glacial erosion

A cirque is an amphitheatre-like valley formed by glacial erosion. Alternative names for this landform are corrie and cwm. A cirque may also be a similarly shaped landform arising from fluvial erosion.

Coulee Type of valley or drainage zone

Coulee, or coulée is a term applied rather loosely to different landforms, all of which refer to a kind of valley or drainage zone. The word coulee comes from the Canadian French coulée, from the French word couler meaning "to flow".

Glacial landform Landform created by the action of glaciers

Glacial landforms are landforms created by the action of glaciers. Most of today's glacial landforms were created by the movement of large ice sheets during the Quaternary glaciations. Some areas, like Fennoscandia and the southern Andes, have extensive occurrences of glacial landforms; other areas, such as the Sahara, display rare and very old fossil glacial landforms.

Depression (geology) Landform sunken or depressed below the surrounding area

In geology, a depression is a landform sunken or depressed below the surrounding area. Depressions form by various mechanisms.

Tunnel valley A U-shaped valley originally cut by water under the glacial ice near the margin of continental ice sheets

A tunnel valley is a U-shaped valley originally cut under the glacial ice near the margin of continental ice sheets such as that now covering Antarctica and formerly covering portions of all continents during past glacial ages. They can be as long as 100 km (62 mi), 4 km (2.5 mi) wide, and 400 m (1,300 ft) deep.

Side valleys and tributary valleys are valleys whose brooks or rivers flow into greater ones.

U-shaped valley Valleys formed by glacial scouring

U-shaped valleys, trough valleys or glacial troughs, are formed by the process of glaciation. They are characteristic of mountain glaciation in particular. They have a characteristic U shape in cross-section, with steep, straight sides and a flat or rounded bottom. Glaciated valleys are formed when a glacier travels across and down a slope, carving the valley by the action of scouring. When the ice recedes or thaws, the valley remains, often littered with small boulders that were transported within the ice, called glacial till or glacial erratic.

Glacial history of Minnesota

The glacial history of Minnesota is most defined since the onset of the last glacial period, which ended some 10,000 years ago. Within the last million years, most of the Midwestern United States and much of Canada were covered at one time or another with an ice sheet. This continental glacier had a profound effect on the surface features of the area over which it moved. Vast quantities of rock and soil were scraped from the glacial centers to its margins by slowly moving ice and redeposited as drift or till. Much of this drift was dumped into old preglacial river valleys, while some of it was heaped into belts of hills at the margin of the glacier. The chief result of glaciation has been the modification of the preglacial topography by the deposition of drift over the countryside. However, continental glaciers possess great power of erosion and may actually modify the preglacial land surface by scouring and abrading rather than by the deposition of the drift.

This glossary of geography terms is a list of definitions of terms and concepts used in geography and related fields, which describe and identify spatial dimension, geographic locations, topographical features, natural resources, and the collection, analysis, and visualization of geographic data. For related terms, see Glossary of geology and Glossary of environmental science.

Overdeepening Characteristic of basins and valleys eroded by glaciers

Overdeepening is a characteristic of basins and valleys eroded by glaciers. An overdeepened valley profile is often eroded to depths which are hundreds of metres below the deepest continuous line along a valley or watercourse. This phenomenon is observed under modern day glaciers, in salt-water fjords and fresh-water lakes remaining after glaciers melt, as well as in tunnel valleys which are partially or totally filled with sediment. When the channel produced by a glacier is filled with debris, the subsurface geomorphic structure is found to be erosionally cut into bedrock and subsequently filled by sediments. These overdeepened cuts into bedrock structures can reach a depth of several hundred metres below the valley floor.

Valley step

A valley step is a prominent change in the longitudinal slope of a valley, mainly in trough valleys formed by glaciers.


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Extraterrestrial valleys