Although mountains represent a barrier to the flow of liquid water across our planet and an Earth of impenetrable mountains would have produced a very different geography, many rivers do cross mountain ranges. These transverse drainages cross mountains through one of four general mechanisms: antecedence—the river maintains its course during mountain building (orogeny); superimposition—a river erodes across buried bedrock atop erodible sediment or sedimentary rock, providing a route across what later becomes an exhumed mountain range; piracy or capture—where a steeper gradient path captures a lower gradient drainage across a low relief interfluve; and overflow—a basin fills with sediment and water, ultimately breaching the lowest sill to create a new river. This article reviews research that aids in identifying the mechanism responsible for a transverse drainage, notes a major misconception about the power of headward eroding streams that has dogged scholarship, and examines the transverse drainage at the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Earth-Surface Processes
- Geography, Planning and Development