Measurements of erosion in a rocky river channel in Taiwan suggest that the day-to-day flow of water accounts for more rock wear there than occasional catastrophic floods do. The findings, which are contrary to current views, could revise scientists' ideas of how rivers shape Earth's surface.
In its 58-kilometer rush to the Pacific, the LiWu River picks up about 11 million tons of sediment each year. That material boosts the river's scouring power, says Rudy L. Slingerland, a geologist at Pennsylvania State University in State College. He and his colleagues measured rates of erosion at more than 2,100 points across a short stretch of the rocky channel. Between December 2000 and December 2001, the river chewed down about 6 millimeters through quartzite rocks and about 2 mm through a tough type of rock known as schist.
But in the previous year, a supertyphoon pummeled the area and produced a flood in which the river's flow rate peaked at about 65 times normal. From Februa