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Erosional Landforms

browse graphicThis valley is one that was greatly modified by glaciers during the last ice age. A valley glacier commonly fills more than half of the valley length, and as it moves, it modifies the former V-shaped stream valley into a broad U-shaped or trough-like form. The head of the valley is sculptured into a large amphitheater called a cirque (visible in the middle background). Where several cirques approach a summit from different directions, a sharp, pyramid-shaped peak called a horn is formed (middle background). The projecting ridges and divides between glacial valleys are subjected to rigorous ice wedging, abrasion, and mass movement. A knife-edged ridge (arete) is the result of glaciers coming together from opposite directions (from left to middle of photo) Moraine material composed of rock fragments is created from glacial erosion. A truncated spur is visible on the right side of the photo just above the tree-covered ridge.
The hydrologic system, which includes all possible paths of motion of Earth's near-surface fluids including air and water, is largely responsible for the variety of landforms found on the continents. Heat from the sun evaporates water from oceans, lakes, and streams. Although most of the water returns directly as precipitation to the oceans, some of the water is precipitated over land as rain or snow. If it is precipitated over land, it then begins its journey back to the sea as runoff. The relentless action of surface runoff, streams, and rivers, glaciers, and waves sculpts the rock into intriguing and bizarre shapes. This set of slides includes examples of wave erosion, wind and water erosion, valley shapes, and glacial erosion. The views are often dramatic. Many were taken at U.S. National Parks and Monuments. Water Erosion of Horizontal Strata in Semiarid Lands After the horizontal strata in today's semiarid landscapes were deposited, they were uplifted, twisted and cracked, forming joints-parallel fractures in the brittle rock. These joint systems are made vulnerable to weatheringand frost wedging by the erosion of the overlying resistant layers. As the joints and fractures widen, rock fins are produced. In addition to fins, large flat areas called plateaus may be eroded along joints into smaller flat topped mesas and still smaller buttes. Buttes are further eroded into pillars and pinnacles. Slabs of rock may break away between two joints in a fin so that an alcove (a recess) forms. As the alcove enlarges, a small window may be produced in the cliff face. Weathering then proceeds inward from all surfaces. As weathering removes the rock surface, pressures locked within the formation itself are released, breaking off more rock flakes. Rock falls from the ceiling of the opening, and the span thins and elongates. These erosive forces-dissolution, frost action, and release of compression-eventually enlarge the window in the fin, creating an arch. Variability in the cementing materials and the rock structure in the arch floor, buttresses, or ceiling determines the size, shape, and age of the arch. The shape and size of the arches changes over time, and the forces that created an arch finally destroy it, leaving goblin-like columns. Wave Erosion Coastal areas are bombarded by water in constant motion. Although wind and/or storm-generated waves, tides, and tsunamis all play a role insculpting the shoreline, the relentless motion of waves is perhaps the most important of these factors. These waves are generated by the wind at sea. As the wave approaches the shore, it breaks, and the surf surges on shore causing erosion, transportation, and deposition in beach areas. The breaking waves transporting sand and gravel encounter the headlands and powerfully abrade them horizontally forming platforms, cliffs, alcoves, and caves in the rock. River SystemsA river system functions as a unified whole, adjusting its profile to establish equilibrium among the factors that influence flow. These factors include discharge, velocity, topographic gradient, base level and load. Although downcutting by the stream is slow on resistant rock units, it occurs more rapidly than erosion and mass movements of the slopes. As a result, vertical-walled canyons develop. But if slope processes keep pace with downcutting, the landscape is characterized by smooth rolling hillsand valleys. Initial dissection and slope retreat occur as a result of uplift. Slope retreat causes non-resistant rocks to recede from the river so that terraces are left on resistant rock layers. GlaciationA prerequisite for glacier formation is that more snow accumulates than melts in the period of a year. Ice sheets have covered major portions ofthe continents, and valley glaciers have formed and melted in many of the mountainous regions of the globe. When these glaciers melted, they haveleft behind an altered landscape. The glaciers alter pre-existing river patterns. They scour mountain tops, valleys, and continental surfaces, transport the eroded particles, and finally leave behind the removed material as glacial deposits.

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    Distribution Formats
    • TIFF
    Distributor DOC/NOAA/NESDIS/NGDC > National Geophysical Data Center, NESDIS, NOAA, U.S. Department of Commerce
    Point of Contact Heather McCullough
    DOC/NOAA/NESDIS/NGDC > National Geophysical Data Center, NESDIS, NOAA, U.S. Department of Commerce
    (303) 497-3707
    Heather.McCullough@noaa.gov
    Documentation links not available.
    Originator
    • DOC/NOAA/NESDIS/NGDC > National Geophysical Data Center, NESDIS, NOAA, U.S. Department of Commerce (comp)
    Publisher
    • National Geophysical Data Center
    Date(s)
    • publication: 1994
    Edition: First
    Dataset Progress Status Complete
    Data Update Frequency: Not planned
    Purpose: To provide long-term scientific data stewardship for the Nation's geophysical data, ensuring quality, integrity, and accessibility.
    Time Period:  to 
    Spatial Bounding Box Coordinates:
    N: 44.31
    S: 30.13
    E: -87.25
    W: -124.16
    Spatial Coverage Map:
    Themes
    • EARTH SCIENCE > LAND SURFACE > Erosion/Sedimentation > Entrainment
    • EARTH SCIENCE > LAND SURFACE > Erosion/Sedimentation > Erosion
    • EARTH SCIENCE > LAND SURFACE > Erosion/Sedimentation > Weathering
    • EARTH SCIENCE > SOLID EARTH > Tectonics > Faults
    • Lithosphere > Seismic activity > Seismic activity
    • Lithosphere > Wind erosion > Wind erosion
    • Marine environments > Coastal ecosystems > Coastal erosion
    • Terrestrial ecosystems > Soils > Water erosion
    • Photo
    • Natural Hazard
    • WDC/MGG, BOULDER > World Data Center for Marine Geology and Geophysics, Boulder
    • DOC/NOAA/NESDIS/NGDC > National Geophysical Data Center, NESDIS, NOAA, U.S. Department of Commerce
    Places
    • Global
    Use Constraints
    • Access Constraints: None Use Constraints: None Distribution Liability: While every effort has been made to ensure that these data are accurate and reliable within the limits of the current state of the art, NOAA cannot assume liability for any damages caused by any errors or omissions in the data, nor as a result of the failure of the data to function on a particular system. NOAA makes no warranty, expressed or implied, nor does the fact of distribution constitute such a warranty.
    Access Constraints
    • Access Constraints: None Use Constraints: None Distribution Liability: While every effort has been made to ensure that these data are accurate and reliable within the limits of the current state of the art, NOAA cannot assume liability for any damages caused by any errors or omissions in the data, nor as a result of the failure of the data to function on a particular system. NOAA makes no warranty, expressed or implied, nor does the fact of distribution constitute such a warranty.
    Fees
    • $25.00 plus handling and shipping outside the USA None $25.00 plus handling and shipping outside the USA
    Lineage Statement Lineage statement not available.

    Metadata Last Modified: 2011-04-06

    For questions about the information on this page, please email: Heather.McCullough@noaa.gov