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AS and A Level: Hydrology & Fluvial Geomorphology

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Five things you need to understand about hydrology and fluvial geomorphology

  1. 1 Make sure you understand the concept of systems, and the difference between a closed system (the global hydrological cycle) and an open system (the drainage basin)
  2. 2 Learn the correct definitions of all the specialist terms (eg percolation, throughflow, hydraulic radius, etc.
  3. 3 Learn a case study which shows how the theory relates to an actual example of a real river basin.
  4. 4 Remember that rivers are not static – they are affected in the short term by weather patterns and human activity and in the long term by changes in climate, tectonic processes and sea levels.
  5. 5 Pay attention to scale: for example British rivers (and British floods) are tiny compared to the great rivers (and great floods) experienced in other parts of the world.

Common errors in hydrology and fluvial geomorphology essays

  1. 1 Although rivers near their source often look like they are flowing quickly, and rivers near their mouth look like they are flowing slowly, river velocity increases downstream. This is because there is more turbulence upstream (due to friction) and rivers flow more efficiently as they get further downstream (as friction reduces).
  2. 2 Infiltration is the movement of water into the soil. Percolation is the movement of water into the underlying rock. Students often confuse these two terms.
  3. 3 Landforms are often referred to as landforms of erosion (eg waterfalls) or landforms of deposition (eg deltas). However, it is important to remember that other processes (erosion, weathering, transportation, deposition, mass movement) also contribute to the formation of these features.
  4. 4 River valleys and river channels are not the same thing.
  5. 5 Remember that flooding can bring benefits as well as costs.

Top facts to use in your essay answers

  1. 1 Water covers approximately 71% of the Earth's surface
  2. 2 96.5% of the planet's water is found in oceans, 1.7% in groundwater, 1.7% in glaciers and the ice caps of Antarctica and Greenland, a small fraction in other large water bodies, and 0.001% in the air.
  3. 3 Only 2.5% of the Earth's water is freshwater, and 98.8% of that water is in ice and groundwater. Less than 0.3% of all freshwater is in rivers, lakes, and the atmosphere.
  4. 4 The Amazon river is by far the largest in the world in terms of discharge (which is greater than the next seven largest rivers combined), and it has the world’s largest drainage basin. The Nile is generally recognised as the world’s longest river (approximately 6550 km).
  5. 5 River flooding has been the cause of some of the world’s worst environmental disasters. For example, the 1931 Yangtze floods in China may have killed up to 4 million people.

  • Marked by Teachers essays 4
  • Peer Reviewed essays 1
  1. Marked by a teacher

    Examine the factors influencing the movement of glaciers.

    4 star(s)

    Temperate glaciers move very rapidly, e.g. The Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand moves approximately 300m per year. It is the basal temperature that determines the mechanism of movement. In what follows I will explain the factors influencing different mechanisms of movement. Temperate glaciers move mainly by basal sliding. If the basal temperature is at or above pressure melting point, a thin layer of meltwater will exist between the ice and the valley floor, therefore friction is reduced and enables the glacier to slide over the underlying land.

    • Word count: 838
  2. Marked by a teacher

    Discus to the extent to which you believe Carlisle floods 2005 were the result of intense rainfall rather than the physical characteristics of the drainage basin

    3 star(s)

    This flow had returned again after approximately 175 years. Many geologists and people could say that the floods were cause by human impact, but in reality, that would be unlikely, but not impossible. It would not have been one of the major factors that cause the floods in Carlisle. However for example if, the vegetation in the river or around the river basin was removed or cut down, for the use of more land, or materialistic things, this could have affected the velocity of the river, as vegetation such as trees, act as an interception in the river causing its velocity to slow down.

    • Word count: 648
  3. Marked by a teacher

    Assess the costs and benefits of one river management scheme you have studied

    3 star(s)

    In addition an argument against the management of Mississippi that floods have gotten worse was proved false as records at the time were inaccurate. It was also suggested that some levee's breaking may have saved towns further upstream. Furthermore the jobs created by the construction of levees, flood walls and wing dykes and other management techniques have boosted the economy. There was also extremely hazardous antecendent conditions that could not be predicted, there was 200% more rain than usual for the particular time of year and people were unprepared in the west were flooding is uncommon, this could not be accounted for when managing the floods for the Mississippi.

    • Word count: 632
  4. Marked by a teacher

    Analyse How the Inputs and Outputs from a River Basin Can Vary Over Time

    3 star(s)

    Long periods of rainfall are the main cause of flooding as the soil has become saturated it reaches its infiltration capacity and infiltration is reduced, therefore increasing the frequency of surface run off and the risk of flooding. In addition to the weather having a large impact on the inputs over a short period of time in and around the catchment area of the river basin the seasons also influence the levels of precipitation. For example in winter precipitation can fall in the form of snow and in summer the precipitation levels often decrease dramatically, due to the vast heat imposed on the surface of the land.

    • Word count: 1507
  5. Peer reviewed

    Explain where and why depositional landforms occur along the course of a river.

    3 star(s)

    Furthermore, the river starts as a stream in the upper course and flows through valleys. The middle course, however, is where the river starts to become wider and deeper. The land, which the river flows over, is becoming flatter and this is where the river starts to meander or bend in the middle course. The lower course is where the river becomes its widest and deepest. This course is found closest to the sea where the river has its mouth. The flat area of land by the riverbanks is known as a floodplain. Sometimes a river can also have an estuary or a delta as its mouth.

    • Word count: 861

Conclusion analysis

Good conclusions usually refer back to the question or title and address it directly - for example by using key words from the title.
How well do you think these conclusions address the title or question? Answering these questions should help you find out.

  1. Do they use key words from the title or question?
  2. Do they answer the question directly?
  3. Can you work out the question or title just by reading the conclusion?
  • To assess whether the modified channel of the river ash is effective in reducing the risk of flooding to local homes.

    "During this project I have gained a deeper understanding of rivers. I learnt about deposition and erosion and how they can affect river channels. I learnt how certain factors can speed up the flow of rivers including the wetted perimeter and grates. I learnt how to carry out a wide range of methods to collect results to help me draw a valid conclusion and I found out how to use new pieces of equipment like the clinometer to perform these investigations. Overall I performed a successful investigation that fulfilled the aim."

  • Compare the impact and responses to a major flood in an MEDC and LEDC.

    "In conclusion a flood in an LEDC has much more disastrous impacts as the quality of infrastructure and response is far weaker. Only with the help of foreign aid can these disasters be improved and the impacts made to be less harmful. An MEDC however has the funds and the s general capability to control their rivers and prevent lots of damage being causes, whilst preventing loss of life also."

  • Assess the costs and benefits of one river management scheme you have studied

    "In my opinion the flood management schemes are costly but essential. But for the management techniques used a lot more damage would have been created. It must been seen that the Mississippi needs to be controlled as there would be huge public opposition to simply "doing nothing". Finally the management employed was only designed to protect the local areas of a certain river discharge; they were not designed to prevent flooding of such magnitude in 1993 and therefore were not at fault for the damage generated."

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