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A waterfall is a place where flowing water rapidly drops in elevation as it flows over a steep region or a cliff.

Formation

Formation of a waterfall
Typically, a river flows over a large step in the rocks that may have been formed by a fault line. As it increases its velocity at the edge of the waterfall, it plucks material from the riverbed. This causes the waterfall to carve deeper into the bed and to recede upstream. Often over time, the waterfall will recede back to form a canyon or gorge downstream as it recedes upstream, and it will carve deeper into the ridge above it.

Often, the rock stratum just below the more resistant shelf will be of a softer type, meaning that undercutting due to splashback will occur here to form a shallow cave-like formation known as a rock shelter or plunge pool under and behind the waterfall. Eventually, the outcropping, more resistant cap rock will collapse under pressure to add blocks of rock to the base of the waterfall. These blocks of rock are then broken down into smaller boulders by attrition as they collide with each other, and they also erode the base of the waterfall by abrasion, creating a deep plunge pool or gorge.



Streams become wider and shallower just above waterfalls due to flowing over the rock shelf, and there is usually a deep pool just below the waterfall because of the kinetic energy of the water hitting the bottom. Waterfalls normally form in a rocky area due to erosion. After a long period of being fully formed, the water falling off the ledge will retreat, causing a horizontal pit parallel to the waterfall wall. Eventually, as the pit grows deeper, the waterfall collapses.

Waterfalls can occur along the edge of a glacial trough, whereby a stream or river flowing into a glacier continues to flow into a valley after the glacier has receded or melted. The large waterfalls in Yosemite Valleymarker are examples of this phenomenon. The rivers are flowing from hanging valleys.

Classifying Waterfalls

Waterfalls are grouped into ten broad classes based on the average volume of water present on the fall using a logarithmic scale. Class 10 waterfalls include Niagara Fallsmarker, Paulo Afonso Falls and Khone Fallsmarker.

Classes of other well-known waterfalls include Victoria Fallsmarker and Kaieteur Fallsmarker (Class 9); Rhine Fallsmarker, Gullfossmarker and Sutherland Fallsmarker (Class 8); Angel Fallsmarker and Dettifossmarker (Class 7); Yosemite Fallsmarker, Lower Yellowstone Fallsmarker and Umphang Thee Lor Sue Waterfallmarker (Class 6).

Types of waterfalls



  • Block: Water descends from a relatively wide stream or river.
  • Cascade: Water descends a series of rock steps.
  • Cataract: A large, powerful waterfall.
  • Fan: Water spreads horizontally as it descends while remaining in contact with bedrock.
  • Horsetail: Descending water maintains some contact with bedrock.
  • Plunge: Water descends vertically, losing contact with the bedrock surface.
Frozen waterfall in southeast New York
  • Punchbowl: Water descends in a constricted form and then spreads out in a wider pool.
  • Segmented: Distinctly separate flows of water form as it descends.
  • Tiered: Water drops in a series of distinct steps or falls.
  • Multi-step: A series of waterfalls one after another of roughly the same size each with its own sunken plunge pool.


Examples of large waterfalls

Significant waterfalls are listed alphabetically:



See also





External links



References


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