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Geomorphology is the study of present-day landforms , includingtheir classification, description, nature, origin, development, and relationships to underlying structures, as well as thehistory of geologic changes as recorded by these surface features. The term issometimes restricted to features produced only by erosion and deposition . Although geomorphology tends to focus onterrestrial landforms, the surfaces of the Moon and Mars are now sufficiently well-known for morphological analysis to be applied there as well.

Geomorphology is fundamentally inspired by the shapes of the terrain we see every day; the meandering course of a river , the rounded shapes of some hills and the pointedshapes of others, the seemingly-random capes and bays of a coastline . While it is generally acceptedthat, for instance, water erodes rock over a long period of time, that doesn't answer the question of whether any particularlandform was created by water erosion, how long ago, whether wind played a role also, and so forth. Geomorpology delves intothese questions in depth, seeking both to explain origins, and so to provide predictive power that can be used in activities suchas civil engineering .

Some geomorphologists identify a taxonomy of landforms, sorted by magnitude:

Different kinds of processes tend to dominate at different magnitudes.



Geomorphology was not originally differentiated from the rest of geology. The first geomorphic model was the "cycle oferosion", developed by William Morris Davis between 1884 and 1899 . The cycle was inspired by theories of evolution , and was depicted as a sequence by which a river would cut a valleymore and more deeply, but then erosion of side valleys would eventually flatten out the terrain again, now at a lower elevation.The cycle could be started over by uplift ofthe terrain. The model is today considered too much of a simplification to be especially useful in practice.

Walther Penck developed an alternative model in the 1920s , based on ratios of uplift and erosion, but it was also too weak to explain a variety oflandforms.


Modern geomorphology focuses on the quantitative analysis of interconnected processes, such as the contribution of solar energy , the rates of steps of the hydrologic cycle , and plate movement rates from geophysics to compute the age and expected fate of landforms. The use of more precise measurement technique hasalso enabled processes like erosion to be observed directly, rather than merely surmised from other evidence. Computer simulation is also valuable for testing that a particular model yields results withproperties similar to real terrain.

Primary surface processes responsible for most topographic features include wind, waves, weathering, mass wasting, groundwater, surface water, glaciers, tectonism, and volcanism.


See also

  • Important publicationsin geomorphology

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