a waterfall is an area where water flows over a vertical drop or a series of steep drops in the course of a stream or river. waterfalls can have a wide range of widths and depths. hydraulic jets and hydraulic jumps at the toe of a falls can generate large forces to erode the bed, especially when forces are amplified by water-borne sediment. 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.
streams can become wider and shallower just above waterfalls due to flowing over the rock shelf, and there is usually a deep area just below the waterfall because of the kinetic energy of the water hitting the bottom. eventually, as the pit grows deeper, the waterfall collapses to be replaced by a steeply sloping stretch of river bed. the large waterfalls in yosemite valley are examples of this phenomenon, which is referred to as a hanging valley.  waterfalls can be grouped into ten broad classes based on the average volume of water present on the fall (which depends on both the waterfall’s average flow and its height) using a logarithmic scale. oscar von engeln (1930s) published “geomorphology: systematic and regional”, this book had a whole chapter devoted to waterfalls, and is one of the earliest examples of published works on waterfalls.
in time, the long profile of a river (the graph of its gradient) takes the form of a smooth curve, steepest toward the source, gentlest toward the mouth. waterfalls interrupt this curve, and their presence is a measure of the progress of erosion. one of the most common reasons for a waterfall’s existence is difference in rock type. a related cause of waterfalls is the presence of bars of hard rock in the riverbed. other waterfalls are caused less by the character of rock formations and more by the structure or shape of the land.
tectonic movement along a fault may bring hard and soft rocks together and encourage the establishment of a waterfall. a drop in sea level promotes increased downcutting and the retreat upstream of a knickpoint (sharp change of gradient indicating the change of a river’s base-level). the rapidity of erosion depends on the height of a given waterfall, its volume of flow, the type and structure of rocks involved, and other factors. in some instances the depth of a plunge pool may nearly equal the height of the cliff causing the falls. retreat of waterfalls is a pronounced feature in some places.
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