Hillslope Erosion Process: Formation of Rills & Gullies

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  • 0:01 What Is a Rill? What…
  • 0:32 How Are They Formed?
  • 1:30 Human Impacts
  • 2:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After watching this video, you will be able to explain what rills and gullies are, describe how they're formed, and how they relate to human activity. A short quiz will follow.

What is a Rill? What Is a Gully?

A rill is a shallow channel in some soil, created by the erosion of flowing water. Rills can generally be easily removed by tilling the soil. When rills get large enough that they cannot easily be removed, they're known as gullies.

Sometimes humans will create artificial rills to move water to where it's needed or as a water feature in a garden because it looks nice. Rills happen most often in soft soil and areas with a lot of rainfall.

How are They Formed?

Rills form when water flows over bare soil. When soil isn't protected by vegetation, water can flow unhindered and fall on the surface directly as rain. Water has powerful erosive capabilities - it erodes away soil and rock. Erosion is the gradual destruction or breaking down of a material by an agent, like water, wind or harsh chemicals. As the water flows over the land, it picks up pieces of soil, moving, or eroding, the soil away inside the flow of water. This moving of soil is what creates the rill and eventually a gully.

Generally, for a rill to form, the water has to be flowing downhill. Gravity is the reason that the water flows in the first place, giving it the chance to create a rill. The steeper the slope, the more likely it is that one will be created. It shouldn't be a surprise that they also form more often in rainier months, where there's more water flowing through and across the land.

Human Impacts

Rills and gullies are more common after human activities than they are in the natural world. That's because humans tend to leave the land bare. Humans cut down trees, which is called deforestation, and plant crops. We also leave land bare while constructing buildings. Farming in particular often involves leaving areas bare, either for short periods of time or sometimes for whole seasons. Farming also removes nutrients from the soil. These factors make the soil susceptible to the effects of rainwater, creating rills and ultimately gullies. Rills can be the first sign that the land has an erosion problem.

Erosion can be a problem both from a natural perspective and a human perspective. Erosion carries the soil down the gully - downhill and away from the land. This can make the quality of crops grown on a piece of land go down over time.

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