Amplified erosion above waterfalls and oversteepened bedrock reaches

I. Haviv, Y. Enzel, K. X. Whipple, E. Zilberman, J. Stone, A. Matmon, L. K. Fifield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


None of the conventional bedrock erosion laws can predict incision immediately upslope of a waterfall lip where the flow is accelerating toward a freefall. Considering the expected increase in flow velocity and shear stress at the lip of a waterfall, we determine erosion amplification at a waterfall lip as Elip/E(x=La) = ( 1 + 0.4/Fr(x=La)2)3n, where E(x=La) is the erosion rate at the upstream end of the flow acceleration zone above a waterfall, Fr is the Froude number at this setting, and n ranges between 0.5-1.7. This amplification expression suggests that erosion at the lip could be as much as 2-5 times higher relative to erosion at a normal setting with identical hydraulic geometry. Utilizing this erosion amplification expression in numerical simulations, we demonstrate its impact on reach-scale morphology above waterfalls. Amplified erosion at the lip of a waterfall can trigger the formation of an oversteepened reach whose length is longer than the flow acceleration zone, provided incision wave velocity (Vi) at the upstream edge of the flow acceleration zone is higher than the retreat velocity of the waterfall face. Such an oversteepened reach is expected to be more pronounced when Vi increases with increasing slope. The simulations also suggest that oversteepening can eventually lead to steady state gradients adjacent to a waterfall lip provided Vi decreases with increasing slope. Flow acceleration above waterfalls can thus account, at least partially, for prevalent oversteepened bedrock reaches above waterfalls. Using the cosmogenic isotope C1-36, we demonstrate that incision wave velocity upstream of a waterfall at the Dead Sea western escarpment is probably high enough for freefall-induced oversteepening to be feasible.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberF04004
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface
Issue number4
StatePublished - 24 Dec 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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