Waterfall can form without any external influence

Creating these natural wonders doesn’t require external forces.

Niagara Waterfall
Niagara Waterfall Image: Pixabay

Visiting a waterfall is one of the most unique experiences ever. The view of foamy water falling over the rocks and into a pool leaving you in a mist of freshness is something that can only be described when you witness a waterfall for the first time. Fortunately for us, these best waterfalls in the world deliver all of this and more. From the tallest ones that fall from thousands of feet to the ones that offer adventurous hikes, these waterfalls will delight the traveler in you!

People have long believed that waterfalls originate from some type of external force applied to a river. Earthquakes and volcanoes, for instance, create waterfalls because they alter the shape of the riverbed. Other catalysts for waterfall formation include sea level change and climate change.

But a new study suggests that a waterfall can form without any external influence. A river’s own chaotic nature can mold the bedrock beneath it and spontaneously create a waterfall, suggests the study.

For the demonstration, scientists first created a model of a river in a lab. Using polyurethane foam as bedrock, the researchers made a river using a flume about 24 feet long by one foot wide. Polyurethane foam is resistant to erosion by water and adheres to similar erosion principles as various types of rocks. The foam allowed the team to better scale the experiment to real-world scenarios.

Joel Scheingross, assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lead author of the study said, “We know how to mathematically scale those erosion rates to what it would be for any other rock type.”

Once scientists built the river, they then started experimenting with running water down the flume. Around 14 liters per second flowed down the incline, which was tilted at a nearly 20 percent grade.

Scientists found that, under the pressure of the water and sediments, the once-straight layer of “rock” began to erode unevenly and became wavy. Some parts of the bedrock didn’t erode at all, creating crests, while others eroded sharply, creating steep hills. In other words, the bedrock began to look like a set of steps.

In a little over 2 hours, water began to flow over the less-eroded crests and cascade down the more-eroded pockets; the scientists had their waterfalls. These lab-made waterfalls stuck around for about 20 minutes before the crests eroded away entirely. The researchers calculated that their lab-made waterfall’s lifespan represented 10 to 10,000 years in a natural river’s life span.

Based on their findings, scientists concluded that some (but not all) waterfalls in nature might form spontaneously as their lab-made one did — and if they can figure out which waterfalls formed spontaneously and which had help, that could mold our understanding of how our landscapes formed throughout our planet’s history.

The study is published in the journal Nature.