Valleys are one of the most prevalent landcreates on the surconfront of the planet. They are carved by flowing water or flowing ice through the procedure of erosion, which is the gradual wearing away of Planet surfaces through the activity of wind and also water. Valleys take on a vast selection of forms—from steep-sided canyons, such as the Grand also Canyon on the Colorado River, to wide plains, such as the reduced Mississippi River valley. The develop of a valley depends on many kind of components, including what is eroding it, the slope of the land surface, the nature of the soil or rock wright here the valley is being produced, and also time.

The shape of the land

A valley is a fairly huge hollow or depression bounded by hills or hills on Earth's surchallenge that is developed by stream erosion or glacial activity and that is drained externally. A basin is another hollow or depression on Earth's surface, however it has no outlet to drainpipe the water. (For additionally information, check out the Container chapter.) Geologists refer to any type of body of running water moving downslope in a characterized channel as a stream (a river is a large stream). A glacier is a big body of ice that developed on land by the compaction and recrystallization of snow, survives year to year, and also mirrors some authorize of movement downhill because of gravity. The 3 primary types of valleys are the V-shaped valley, the flat-floored valley, and the U-shaped valley.

A V-shaped valley is a narrowhead valley that has a profile arguing the create of the letter "V," defined by steeply sloping sides. It results from a stream eroding downward, a procedure referred to as downcutting. V-shaped valleys create in mountains or other highland also locations wbelow streams are in their start or "youthful" phase and are flowing quickly dvery own steep slopes. The bottom of a valley is referred to as its floor. In highland also areas

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Blue Ridge Mountain Valley, North Carolina. Valleys are carved by flowing water or flowing ice with the process of erosion, which is the steady wearing away of Planet surfaces through the activity of wind and also water . PHOTOGRAPH REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION OF THE

near a stream's source, or start, the valley sides slope down virtually directly to the stream's banks, or sides of its channel. The valley floor in this area is narrowhead or even nonexistent.

Valley: Words to Kcurrently

Alpine glacier: A relatively small glacier that creates in high elevations close to the tops of mountains. Base level: The level below which a stream cannot erode. Erosion: The progressive wearing away of Planet surdeals with via the action of wind and also water. Fjord: A deep glacial tstormy submerged through seawater. Floodplain: An location of almost level land bordering a stream that is normally topic to regular flooding. Glacial trough: A U-shaped valley sculpted out of a V-shaped stream valley by the activity of a valley glacier. Glacier: A large body of ice that created on land also by the compaction and recrystallization of snow, survives year to year, and also shows some sign of movement downhill because of gravity. Hanging valley: A shenable glacial tunstable that leads into the side of a bigger, primary glacial trough. Levee (natural): A low ridge or mound alengthy a stream financial institution, created by deposits left once floodwater slows down on leaving the channel. Mass wasting: The spontaneous activity of product down a slope in response to gravity. Meander: A bfinish or loop in a stream's course. Rift valley: The deep main crevice in a mid-sea ridge; additionally, a valley or tturbulent developed between two normal faults. Stream: Any body of running water that moves downslope under the affect of gravity in a identified channel on Earth's surchallenge. U-shaped valley: A valley developed by glacial erosion that has actually a profile suggesting the form of the letter "U," identified by steep sides that might curve inward at their base and a broad, nearly level floor. Valley glacier: An alpine glacier flowing downward via a preexisting stream valley. V-shaped valley: A narrow valley produced by the downcutting action of a stream that has a profile saying the develop of the letter "V," identified by steeply sloping sides.

Downstream, as the gradient or slope of the stream's channel lessens and also becomes even more gentle, the floor of the valley widens. A stream in this phase is no longer thought about youthful however "mature." A stream flowing at a moderate to low gradient has a tendency to erode more alengthy the banks of its channel than alengthy its bed or bottom. Therefore, the stream gradually sweeps throughout the valley floor in a series of S-shaped bends referred to as meanders (pronounced me-AN-ders). Over time, as the stream continues to meander, it erodes away material on the valley floor, ever before widening it. The form of the valley transforms significantly from a sharp V to a more comprehensive V to one that has a level floor. This last type of valley, via a floor that is horizontal and often wide, is well-known as a flat-floored valley. This type of valley is the most prevalent.

Streams are systems for moving sediment—rock debris such as clay, silt, sand, gravel, or also larger material—across Earth's surchallenge to the world's seas and seas. Naturally and also routinely, the flow of water in a stream may come to be as well high to be accommodated in the stream's channel. The water then flows over the stream's financial institutions and also floods the surrounding land. As it does so, the water immediately slows dvery own and drops any type of sediment it was transferring. Coarser sediment is deposited close to the channel. Gradually, as the procedure is repeated over and also over, the sediment develops piles called herbal levees along the stream's banks. Finer sediment (sands, silt, and also clay) brought by the water is spreview farther away from the channel before it is ultimately deposited. The flat or gently sloping surconfront created by the repeated deposition of sediment along a stream is called the stream's floodsimple. A floodplain might cover all or just a section of the valley floor. (For even more indevelopment, watch the Stream and also river and also Floodsimple chapters.)

A U-shaped valley is a valley that has actually a profile saying the form of the letter "U," defined by steep sides that may curve inward at their bases and also a large, almost level floor. Specifically, a U-shaped valley is one sculpted by glacial erosion. Thick masses of ice that move slowly over Earth's surconfront, glaciers are found in areas cshed to the North and also South Poles, the extreme northerna lot of and also southernthe majority of points on the world, or in mountains at high elevations. Those that create over huge locations of continents cshed to the poles are dubbed continental glaciers or ice sheets. Two continental glaciers are discovered on Earth: one covers 85 percent of Greenland in the Northern Hemispright here and also the other covers more than 95 percent of Antarctica in the Southern Hemispbelow. Relatively little glaciers that develop in high elevations close to the tops of mountains are called alpine or hill glaciers. (For better information, see the Glacial landforms and attributes chapter.)

Because of their dimension and also weight, continental glaciers ruin topography, leveling the surconfront functions of a landscape. The result of alpine glaciers is not as excessive. They flow dvery own pre-existing V-shaped valleys produced by streams to create U-shaped valleys. As such, they are additionally well-known as valley glaciers. Whereas a stream just occupies the floor (or a major percent of it) in a V-shaped valley, a valley glacier occupies the whole valley, eroding both the sides and the floor as it moves, deepening and also widening the valley. U-shaped valleys are likewise known as glacial troughs.

Draining an area, streams tend to circulation throughout the landscape in a treefavor pattern: the smallest streams (the outer branches) circulation right into bigger streams (the inner branches), which circulation into the primary stream (the trunk). Smaller streams that flow into bigger ones are recognized as tributaries. When valley glaciers fill an area, they may occupy the valleys produced


by a major stream and its nearest tributaries. Tributary valleys nearly always sign up with the major stream valley at the same altitude or height, however glacial activity deepens the main valley even more than its side valleys. The shallower glacial troughs produced by these smaller valley glaciers (known as tributary glaciers) are called hanging valleys. If temperatures in the area boost, bring about the glaciers to melt and retreat, meltwater from the glaciers might develop streams that run via these hanging valleys. In spectacular instances, streams in hanging valleys frequently fall to the floor of the main valley as a waterautumn.

In certain instances, a valley glacier might circulation all the means to a coast, carving out a deep, narrow U-shaped valley. If the glacier melts, the valley might end up being flooded through seawater, forming an inlet well-known as a fjord (pronounced fee-ORD).

The term rift valley is supplied to define a space wright here a section of Earth's crust (thin, solid outermost layer of the planet) has actually dropped down in between 2 normal faults (cracks or fractures in Earth's crust along which rock on one side has actually moved family member to rock on the other). Basically, whenever before the planet's crust is based on compression or tension caused by warmth forces beneath the crust, faults construct, and some blocks of rock drop alengthy these fractures family member to the ground on either side. A rift valley is not a true valley. The dropped-down block or crust that formed a depression on the surconfront of the ground is effectively called a graben (pronounced GRAH-bin). Rift valleys, which are found about the civilization on continents and also the sea floors, are frequently sites of volcanic and also earthquake activity. (For even more information, watch the Fault chapter.)

Forces and changes: Construction and damage

The leading agent of erosion on the surface of the earth is flowing water. Although the ice in glaciers is solid, it also flows (though even more gradually than water in a stream channel). Both streams and glaciers move downhill under the affect of gravity, the major driving force behind virtually all agents of erosion. As they relocate downward, they move sediment they have picked up or that has actually fallen right into or onto them.

Stream erosion

The shaping of stream valleys is because of a mix of erosion by flowing water and mass wasting, the spontaneous motion of Planet material dvery own a slope in response to gravity. This does not include product transported downward by streams, winds, or glaciers. Thunstable mass wasting, material from higher elevations is relocated to lower elevations wbelow streams, glaciers, and also wind pick it up and move it to even reduced elevations. Mass wasting occurs repetitively on all slopes. While some mass-wasting processes act exceptionally gradually, others take place extremely unexpectedly. The general term landslide is provided to describe all relatively quick creates of mass wasting. (For further information, see the Landslide and also various other gravity activities chapter.)

The Literary Landscape

"The renowned Yosemite Valley lies at the heart of it, and it contains the head waters of the Tuolumne and Merced rivers, 2 of the most songful streams in the world; innumerable lakes and waterfalls and silky lawns; the noblest forests, the loftiest granite domes, the deepest ice-sculptured cañon, the brightest crystalline pavements, the snowy hills soaring right into the skies twelve and also thirteen thousand also feet, arrayed in open ranks and also spiry pinnacled groups partially separated by incredible cañons and amphitheatres; gardens on their sunny brows, avalanches thundering dvery own their long, white slopes, cataracts roaring gray and also foaming in the crooked rugged gorges, and also glaciers in their shadowy recesses working in silence, gradually completing their sculpture; new-born lakes at their feet, blue and green, free or encumbered via drifting icebergs favor miniature Arctic Oceans, shining, sparkling, calm as stars."

—John Muir, Our National Parks , 1901.

Once a stream forms, it seeks out its base level, which is the level listed below which the stream cannot erode. Base level is the elevation of the big body of water, such as a lake or sea, into which a stream drains. The basic or ultimate base level for most larger streams is sea level. For


The glacier-carved crescent-shaped Hunza Valley in Pakistan . PHOTOGRAPH REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION OF THE

a tributary, base level is the suggest wright here it empties right into a larger stream. Aided by gravity, a stream tries to reach its base level as quickly as feasible. The bigger the difference in elevation in between the stream and also its base level, the better the erosive or cutting pressure of the stream. Temporary base levels may form along a stream's course, such as those produced by a lake or resistant rock.

The resistance of the rock over which a stream flows determines the form of its initial stream valley. In a highland area, a stream's erosional force is directed along its bed, not its financial institutions, as it seeks to lower its channel to base level. If the rock over which the stream flows in this location is difficult and also resistant to erosion, the stream will cut a narrowhead, steep-walled canyon. The valley produced exists as a nearly vertical notch with no floor. If the rock is less resistant to erosion, the stream will certainly still downreduced, yet the sides of the valley will take on the characteristic V shape as mass wasting—rockfalls and also other types of landslides—widens the top portion of the valley.

Rock hardness is an essential aspect in erosion, however a stream's capability to cut relies on how much sediment it carries and exactly how fast it is flowing. The sediment lugged by a stream may have actually been eroded from the bed and banks of the stream, or it might have actually fallen right into the stream after a mass-wasting event moved it down a slope bordering the stream's channel. Water moving at a low velocity or rate have the right to relocate just small, fine pshort articles such as sand also, silt, and clay. Water relocating at a high velocity have the right to relocate a larger amount of both little particles and also big, coarse pshort articles such as boulders. Water that flows erratically, offering increase to swirls and eddies, is shelp to be stormy, and unstable water can relocate the coarsest and also best amount of particles.

A stream erodes with hydraulic activity and abrasion. Hydraulic activity is the pressure exerted by the water itself. This force works alengthy the banks of streams, attacking and undermining layers of soil and also rock. Abrasion is the grinding and scraping of the stream's banks and bed by the sediment lugged by the stream.

When a stream flows out of a highland location, reaching an elevation that is closer to its base level, it begins to slow down. In this state, the stream is still eroding downward, yet its primary pressure of erosion is directly laterally or horizontally against its financial institutions. It begins meandering, winding earlier and forth, carving out a valley floor in between valley wall surfaces or bluffs. Periodically, the stream will flood all or a component of its valley, depositing sediment on its developing floodordinary.

At the reduced reaches of a stream, where it viewpoints base level, the valley it flows through will certainly be open up, wide, and also flat-bottomed. Valley walls, if they also exist, will be far away from the stream channel.

Glacial erosion

Moving glaciers not just carry material as they move, they additionally sculpt and also carve ameans the land also beneath them. A glacier's weight, merged through its gradual activity, deserve to substantially reshape the landscape.

A valley glacier moves to lower elevations under the pressure of gravity with a mix of interior flow and also sliding at its base. The ice in a glacier is so thick and also under such push that it starts to behave like a thick tar, flowing outside and also downward. Glacial movement with this inner circulation is incredibly slow. On average, it actions just an inch or two (a few centimeters) a day. In a valley glacier, ice in the upper central part moves quicker than ice at the sides, where it is in contact with the valley wall surfaces. The considerable weight of a valley glacier additionally creates substantial pressure at its base, and also this push lowers the temperature at which ice melts. A layer of water develops in between the glacial ice and the ground. The water reduces friction by lubricating the ground and allowing the glacier to slide on its bed.

A valley glacier is capable of eroding and delivering astronomical quantities of sediment. As the glacier moves, its ice flows into and refreezes in fractures in the rock walls and floor of the valley. The glacier then plucks that rocky product away via it, some of which might be boulders the size of dwellings. This


The 150-mile-long Shenandoah Valley in northern Virginia . PHOTOGRAPH REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION OF THE

material then becomes embedded in the ice at the base and alengthy the sides of the glacier. As the glacier continues to move, the embedded material abrades or scrapes the rock surrounding the glacier prefer a giant file.

Following an existing V-shaped valley, a glacier erodes the valley, deepening and widening it. It might rise the width of the valley by as much as 10s of miles (kilometers). The glacier likewise flattens the valley floor bereason ice tends to cut down over a more comprehensive area than flowing water. When the glacier lastly retreats, a thick layer of glacial sediment dubbed ground moraine continues to be, filling in any kind of irregularities in the valley floor.

Spotlight on famous creates

Napa Valley, The golden state

California's Napa Valley is world-renowned for having actually a wide range of soils and climate conditions that assist create grapes that are made into high quality wines. The narrowhead valley is 30 miles (48 kilometers) lengthy and also 1 to 6 miles (1.6 to 9.6 kilometers) wide. It occupies a space of around 300,000 acres (120,000 hectares).

At its north end lies the region's biggest mountain, Mount St. Helena. Its southerly end opens to San Pablo Bay, an arm of the San Francisco Bay system. The valley is bordered by 2 mountain varieties, the Vaca Mountains on the eastern and also the Macayamas Mountains on the west. Flowing with the middle of this valley is the 50-mile-lengthy (80-kilometer-long) Napa River.

The valley started to form about four million years ago as soon as heat forces beneath Earth's crust in this area required land also on either side of the contemporary valley upward into hills. Certain locations between the mountains were widened and lowered into troughs as a result. Napa Valley is such a room. After the valley's development, eruptions from a number of volcanoes neighboring the valley blanketed the land in volcanic cinders and also ash that collected to layers thousands of feet thick.

Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

The Shenandoah Valley in north Virginia is component of the Great Valley of the Appalachians, which stretches from Pennsylvania to Alabama. The Shenandoah Valley, which is about 150 miles (241 kilometers) lengthy, lies in between the Blue Ridge Mountains on the eastern and also the Allegheny Mountains on the west.

Both hill varieties are component of the Appalachian Mountain device, which created over 300 million years ago. The effective erosive pressures of water, wind, and frost have substantially eroded the Appalachians considering that then. Water runoff has carved the mountains' distinctive alternating pattern of ridges and valleys.

The Shenandoah River, which runs with the valley, is a tributary of the Potomac River. It was the initially of the tributaries in the location to reach the soft limerock layer that is now the base of the Shenandoah Valley. Intercepting stream after stream west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Shenandoah River grew. As it did, it carved out the Shenandoah Valley, disresolving the limerock and also carrying the sediments north to the Potomac.

Yosemite Valley, The golden state

Lying in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in central The golden state is a 0.5-mile (0.8-kilometer) deep depression. Measuring 7 miles (11 kilometers) long and also 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) wide, Yosemite Valley lies at the heart of Yosemite National Park, which encompasses 761,170 acres (304,468 hectares).

The Merced River runs with the valley. Geologists estimate that a couple of million years earlier, it started to carve a valley where the contemporary


Yosemite Valley, salso miles lengthy and also one mile across, was developed throughout six essential geologic stperiods that arisen over millions of years . PHOTOGRAPH REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION OF THE

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Yosemite Valley lies. The Sierra Nevada Mountains were uplifted and also tilted westward, leading to the river to gradually, then swiftly, erode a deep, steep-walled canyon. About 2 million years earlier, North America's climate started to cool and glaciers started to develop. Throughout one of the significant glacial durations, around 700,000 years back, ice thickness in the location was approximately 6,000 feet (1,829 meters). Massive, flowing glacial ice led to remarkable quantities of rock to be sculpted and transported to the area, producing enormous rock formations that still exist.

The flow and also retreat of glaciers with Yosemite Valley arisen many type of times till about 10,000 years earlier, when the last significant glacial period ended in The United States and Canada. What remained was a U-shaped valley that was actually deeper than the contemporary Yosemite Valley. Rock debris from the glacier had dammed the valley creating ancient Lake Yosemite, which spanned the valley floor. Streams from hanging valleys over fell in towering waterdrops. The tallest of these is Yosemite Falls, which presently drops 2,425 feet (739 meters) to the valley floor. Ultimately, sediment filled in the lake till it formed the existing valley floor.

For More Information


Huber, N. King. The Geologic Story of Yosemite National Park . Washington, D.C.: UNITED STATE Geological Survey, 1987.

Web Sites

"A Glacier Carves a U-Shaped Valley." U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service . (accessed on August 14, 2003).

"Valley and also Stream Erosion." Bryant Waterburned Project . (accessed on August 14, 2003).

Valley Glaciers . (accessed on August 14, 2003).