River Profiles

In GCSE Geography students will look in depth at rivers. This is one of several quizzes on that subject and it looks at river profiles and the features found in each stage of their course.

The course of a river is split into three areas - the upper stage, the middle stage and the lower stage. In the upper course the river is close to its source and is commonly in the hills or valleys travelling down a step gradient. At this stage the rocks it is carrying are large and angular. In the middle course the river is eroding its banks and starting to create the meanders that will carve out a floodplain. In the lower course the river is now close to the mouth, it can’t erode down into the land anymore and now it starts to deposit some of the load that was eroded from high above and that the river has been carrying. The rocks deposited here are smaller and smoother than those in the earlier parts of the river's course.

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We can also look at rivers in cross section - the cross profile. From those high energy locations high in the mountains, through to the lower valleys, where all that energy is used to shape the geology around us.

The great thing about learning about river profiles is that it’s easy to think about this topic. Imagine you’re walking the length of the river. You start in the mountains, where the water is moving over rapids and flowing quickly through steep sided valleys. As you walk down to lower ground the river gets wider and deeper and the valley wider and flatter as the river starts to wind its way towards the sea, before discharging via its estuary.

How well do you know river profiles? Try this quiz to test your knowledge and see how much you understand.

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  1. What is a levee?
    Levees are natural or artificial barriers to flooding. Often the river flow and channel may be higher than the land surrounding them due to deposition building up the bed of the river and the height of the levees
  2. What sort of features would you find in the upper course of a river?
    In the upper course of the river the river tends to erode vertically down, winding round tougher rock structures, leading to the interlocking spurs and V-shaped valleys
  3. As a river moves from the mountains towards the sea its valley shape changes. How might you describe those changes?
    As the river moves towards the coast the river valley becomes wider as the meanders cut back the valley sides
  4. How do levees form?
    Sediment is dropped from suspension when the river velocity lowers. At the point a river over-tops its banks the velocity drops sharply. Levees are often reinforced or increased artificially as flood protection
  5. Waterfalls are defined as water cascading from a height. But how do these river features often form?
    As the river runs down a hillside it can pass over alternating layers of hard and soft rock, this will mean it erodes the softer rock, eventually undercutting the harder rock and causing it to collapse under its own weight
  6. What shape would a typical cross section of a river in its upper course be?
    Try and imagine the river when you are answering questions like this. In the mountains you can imagine the narrow shallow stream that you can often wade across, or ford
  7. Which of these areas is the most suitable for dams and reservoirs?
    Dams are normally built in valleys where the water can be contained on two sides by the valley itself. Steep valleys with hard geology increase the amount of water that can be stored behind the dam, and the geology decreases the risk of dam collapse
  8. In the upper course, as the river erodes rock away, tapering ridges are formed. What are these known as?
    As the river erodes it takes the path of least resistance, often winding between sections of tougher rocks, leading to these tapering ridges of interlocking spurs
  9. If you took a slice of a river from the source to the mouth this would be called what?
    The long profile measures the changes in the river from the source to the baseline - the lowest point the river can erode to, normally sea level
  10. Which of the following is the typical order of features in a river, from its start to discharging into the sea?
    A river starts at its source and normally finishes at the sea at its estuary. Meanders are only found in the middle and lower sections whilst rapids and waterfalls are commonly found in the upper sections

Author: Ruth M

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