Erosion and Landscape Evolution

Steven Dutch, Professor Emeritus, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay

Constructive and Destructive Processes



Lowlands, Coastal Plain, Lakes and Seas

Anatomy of a Drainage Basin

Small streams, called tributaries, join larger streams. The drainage divide separates water that flows into one stream from all other streams. Eventually the river empties into a final destination. Usually it's the sea, sometimes a lake, rarely (in deserts) a dry basin. The final destination is called the base level and dictates how deep the river can cut.

The Ideal Stream Cycle (W.M. Davis, 1880)

Not a Literal Time Sequence


Youthful humid-climate landscape

Maturity (Early)

Early mature humid-climate landscape

Maturity (Late)

Once the river cuts to a certain level, the current can only just carry the sediment entering the stream. From then on, the river is only moving sediment, not cutting. Meanwhile other processes continue to erode the uplands.Late mature humid climate landscape

Old Age

Old age humid climate landscape

About River Meanders