Valley: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Definition of a Valley
  • 1:06 V-Shaped Valleys
  • 2:31 U-Shaped Valleys
  • 3:26 Rift Valleys:…
  • 4:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Maria Howard

Maria is a teacher and a learning specialist and has master's degrees in literature and education.

Explore the types of valleys created by erosion and the shifting of the earth's plates. Learn about the different shapes valleys can take, from steep river canyons to wide glacier valleys.

Definition of a Valley

Every few months, I find myself defending my hometown of Sacramento, California, especially when people question why it was chosen as the state capital. Why not L.A. or San Francisco? Sacramento is in an especially fertile valley, I tell them, at the intersection of two important rivers that settlers in the late 1840s relied on for water and for transporting people and goods. The Sacramento Valley also contains rich farmland and the valuable mineral deposits that led to the Gold Rush in 1849. Valleys are great places to settle. Just think of the ancient Egyptians in the Valley of the Kings or the Indus River Valley Civilization.

A valley is a depressed area of land between mountains or hills. If you look at a map of Northern California, you'll see Sacramento is bordered on one side by the Sierra Nevada mountain range and on the other side by the Coastal range. Valleys often have rivers flowing through them, just as the American and Sacramento Rivers flow through Sacramento.

V-Shaped Valleys

When valleys first form between mountains, they often have a deep V shape. For example, a river canyon, a specific type of V-shaped valley formed by the erosion of the land by a river over time. For example, the Colorado River has worn away at the Colorado Plateau for so many years that the Grand Canyon is 1.8 kilometers (6,000 feet) deep in some places. If you figure that the Chrysler Building in New York City is 1,046 feet tall, that is about six Chrysler Buildings stacked on top of one another.

A gorge has the same basic V shape of a river canyon, but is usually smaller. Gorges also have rivers flowing through their narrow valleys. In China, the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River consists of—you guessed it—three gorges, which were flooded in order to create a waterway for ships to travel and to generate hydroelectric power. Three Gorges is the biggest dam in the world, and it would have to be to supply power to one of the most populated countries in the world.

In addition to Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, is also home to several steep gorges and breathtaking waterfalls. Add that beautiful Northeastern fall foliage, and you've got some killer vacation photos. It's no wonder that someone had the bright idea to create a t-shirt that reads, 'Ithaca is gorges.'

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