Bedrock Channels: Formation & Process

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  • 0:05 Bedrock Channels &…
  • 1:18 Bedrock Vs. Alluvium
  • 2:07 Abrasion
  • 2:47 Plucking
  • 3:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Bedrock channels are eroded paths cut through solid rock foundations known as bedrock. Learn about bedrock channels and the processes that form them, including abrasion and plucking.

Bedrock Channels & Stream Power

If you ever sat on the bank of a gently flowing river, you understand how peaceful and calming this setting can be. Yet, if you add a few days of constant rain to this environment, that gently flowing river can turn into a fast-moving flood capable of picking up cars and buildings and depositing them far downstream. If that flood of water freezes, large chunks of ice can form and create even more havoc as they barrel downstream. What I'm trying to say is that running water and ice carries a great deal of energy.

We know from physics that this energy can be lost when it hits something. Of course, energy doesn't disappear; instead, it gets transformed into some other form, such as work. With running water, this work can be erosion. The rate of energy loss on a channel bed that can lead to erosion is known as stream power. This idea of stream power helps us understand how water can cut channels through hard structures, like earth and rock. In this lesson, we will learn about bedrock channels, which are eroded paths cut through bedrock, and the process that leads to their formation.

Bedrock vs. Alluvium

So what is bedrock? Well, the easiest way to think of it is as a firm foundation of solid rock. It's usually covered by loose soil and sediments called alluvium. It might help you to remember these terms if you think of bedrock as the bed you sleep in at night. When you lay down at night, you rest on a firm foundation that is your bed. On top of your bed you might have pillows and blankets that can easily be pushed aside; this would be like the loose sediment that geologists refer to as alluvium.

In fact, alluvial channels are another type of channel composed of loose alluvial sediments. Alluvial channels are free to adjust because of the loose sediments they carry and deposit, whereas channels cut through bedrock are not as free to adjust due to the solid confines of the rock.


I think you can see that it's a lot harder to cut through bedrock than it is to cut through alluvium, so let's take a look at the processes that form bedrock channels. Abrasion can be defined as the erosion that occurs when particles scrape against each other. Abrasion can be thought of as having somewhat of a sandpaper-like effect on rocks. It helps form bedrock channels as sediment particles that are carried along tumble and scrape against the bedrock walls, causing the walls to erode. It also leads to some of the most interesting rock features, such as potholes like these:

Abrasion can lead to the formation of potholes.

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