1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Alluvium

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ALLUVIUM, soil or land deposited by running water. All streams, from the tiniest rill to the greatest river, are continually engaged in transporting downstream solid particles of rock, the product of weathering agencies in the area which they drain. Since the capacity of a stream to carry matter in suspension is proportional to its velocity, it follows that any circumstance tending to retard the rate of flow will induce deposition. Thus a fall in the gradient at any point in the course of a stream; any snag, projection or dam, impeding the current; the reduced velocity caused by the overflowing of streams in flood and the dissipation of their energy where they enter a lake or the sea, are all contributing causes to alluviation, or the deposition of stream-borne sediment. It is evident from the foregoing remarks, that while even the smallest stream may make deposits of alluvial character it is in the flood-plains and deltas of large rivers that the great alluvial deposits are to be found. The finer material constituting alluvium, often described as “silt,” is sand and mud. Although it may be exceedingly fine-grained, there is usually very little clay in alluvium. The larger materials include gravel of all degrees of coarseness; carbonaceous matter is often an important element. The amount of solid matter borne by large streams is enormous; many rivers derive their names from the colour thereby imparted to the water, e.g. Hwang Ho = Yellow river, Missouri = Big Muddy, the Red river, &c. It has been estimated that the Mississippi annually carries 406¼ million tons of sediment to the sea; the Hwang Ho 796 million tons; the Po 67 million tons. Many shallow lakes have been completely filled with alluvium and their sites are now occupied by fertile plains; this process may be seen in operation almost anywhere; a good illustration is the delta of the Rhone in Lake Geneva. Alluvial deposits may be of great size. The flood-plain of the Mississippi has an area of 50,000 sq. m.; the great delta of the Ganges and Brahmaputra has an area of about 60,000 sq. m.; that of the Hwang Ho reaches out 300 m. into the sea and has a coastal border of about 400 m. Old alluvial deposits are left high above the existing level of many rivers, in the form of “terraces” of gravel and loam, the streams to which these owe their existence having modified their courses and cut deeper channels; such are the alluvial gravels and brick-earths upon which much of “greater London” is built. In some regions alluvial deposits are the resting places of gemstones and gold, platinum, &c.; it is from these deposits that the largest nuggets of gold have been obtained. Alluvial soils are almost invariably of great fertility; it is due to the alluvial mud annually deposited by the Nile that the dwellers in Egypt have been able to grow their crops for over 4000 years without artificial fertilization.