Science Visualized

Evolution of river systems

9:44am, April 1, 2014

RUNNING WATERS  When a value called χ varies across watershed boundaries, as it does along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains (thick white line), the river networks are still evolving and the ridge is shifting, a new study shows.

A river’s erosion downward and across a landscape is based on a variety of factors, including terrain steepness and the arrangement of tributaries. In the March 7 Science, geophysicist Sean Willett of ETH Zurich and colleagues boiled down these factors into a single parameter called χ (the Greek letter chi), which typically becomes larger as distance from a river’s mouth increases.

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