WHAF: Geomorphology

Science of Watershed Health


About: Geomorphology

Geomorphology icon Geomorphology is the study of landforms; from their origin and evolution to the processes that continue to shape them. The term is derived from the Greek geo, meaning earth, and morphe, meaning form. Geomorphologists seek to understand landform history and dynamics, and predict future changes through a combination of field observation, physical experiments, and modeling.

Landforms evolve in response to a combination of natural and anthropogenic processes. Large-scale geologic forces such as uplift, volcanic activity, and glacial erosion and deposition shape the land over which rivers eventually flow. Geology sets the stage for what is to come.

The shape of each stream reacts to certain variables in predictable and measurable ways. For example, the natural form of the low gradient streams characteristic of most of Minnesota is sinuous, narrow, and deep. Steeper rivers found on the North Shore of Lake Superior are less sinuous and have boulder and bedrock rapids more like mountain streams. Many variations on these forms can be found throughout the world.

Large-scale human activity is also a force changing landforms and impacting landscape-level processes. Building dams and dikes, converting existing land cover to crop production, and adding impervious surfaces are examples of human induced change with geomorphic force. These changes impact and alter the other natural geomorphic processes occurring across the landscape.

Explore the Geomorphology Health Scores to see a series of index values that show health trends in the geomorphology of Minnesota.