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The Upper Course of a River

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Learning objectives

What are the main processes that


operate in the upper course?
What landforms occur in the upper course
of a river?
How are the landforms created?

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Processes of river erosion


Erosion is the wearing away of the land.

Study this photo.


How do you think this river can erode the landscape?
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Processes of river erosion


Hydraulic action

Corrosion

Attrition

Abrasion

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Definitions
Hydraulic Action
This process involves the force of water against the bed
and banks.
Abrasion/Corrasion
This is the process by which the bed and banks are worn
down by the rivers load. The river throws these particles
against the bed and banks, sometimes at high velocity.
Attrition
Material (the load) carried by the river bump into each
other and so are smoothed and broken down into smaller
particles.
Corrosion
This is the chemical action of river water. The acids in the
water slowly dissolve the bed and the banks.
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Do you know your processes of erosion?

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Learning objectives

What are the main processes that operate


in the upper course?
What landforms occur in the upper
course of a river?
How are the landforms created?

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Landforms in the upper course


V-shaped valleys and interlocking spurs
Rapids
river disappears
Waterfalls
from view hidden
by this spur of land

River Conwy
(near Mignant Moor)
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Learning objectives

What are the main processes that operate


in the upper course?
What landforms occur in the upper course
of a river?
How are the landforms created?

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Why do V-shaped valleys occur?

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Interlocking spurs
In the upper course the river does not have a huge amount
of energy to erode as it does not have a high discharge and
it has to transport large pieces of sediment.
When the river meets areas of harder rock that are difficult
to erode it winds around them. A series of hills form on
either side of the river called spurs. As the river flows
around these hills they become interlocked. So, a series of
interlocking spurs are often found in the upper course of
a river valley.

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Techniques! 1. Fieldsketching.

Produce an annotated fieldsketch to show that


this is part of an upland river valley.
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2. OS Maps
Identify v-shaped valleys and spurs of land.

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Waterfalls!

Seljalandsfoss, SW Iceland

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Waterfall formation

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Waterfalls

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How does a waterfall form?


Rearrange the stages of formation into the correct order:

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Waterfalls
Draw and annotate a diagram to explain
the formation of a waterfall.

Suggested labels:
1. More resistant
rock
2. Less resistant
rock
3. Plunge Pool
4. Unsupported
rock
5. Fallen rocks
6. Gorge

Your labels should contain detailed explanations!


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An example of a waterfall Gulfoss, Iceland

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Gulfoss
Gulfoss is located in
Southwest Iceland on the
Huita River.
Gulfoss has two steps to
its waterfall. These steps
are made by basalt lava
while the rocks between
these layers are softer,
sedimentary rocks.
Its gorge is 70m deep and
3 km long!

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The geology of Gulfoss is more complex!


grey basalt
sandstone
mudstone
tillite
grey basalt
conglomerate

plunge
pool

Which of these different rocks do you think is the most resistant?


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What are rapids and how do they form?


Rapids are part of a river where the water is relatively
shallow but the flow of the water is quite fast and turbulent
as the water descends over a series of small steps.

River Rhone

Rapids are formed due to a sudden steepening of the


stream gradient, but without a sufficient break in slope
to form a waterfall, or from the river flowing over a
series of thin layers of hard and soft rock.

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Rapids

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Examination question
Study the map of a river valley below:
Height
(m)

X
Y
Y
Sketch a cross-section of the river valley from X to Y.

Label two features of this river valley.


State at what stage of a rivers course you would
expect to find this type of valley. Give reasons for your
answer.
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What do you know about upland river valleys?

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Key ideas
Erosion is the main process operating in the upper
course of a river.
The direction of erosion is vertical.
There are four main types of erosion hydraulic action,
attrition, abrasion and corrosion.
Valleys are v-shaped with interlocking spurs.
Waterfalls are formed where a river meets a band of
less resistant rock. Plunge pools and gorges are
features associated with the formation of waterfalls.
Rapids are smaller scale features formed where finer
bands of varying resistance of rock are found.

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