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Mather Gorge by Robin Rohrback

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About This Gigapan

Taken by
Robin Rohrback Robin Rohrback
Explore score
Print Pricing
$8.00 to $798.00
3.87 Gigapixels
Date added
Dec 21, 2012
Date taken
Dec 20, 2012

This image shows three generations of Potomac riverbed, called straths.

How does a river deepen its channel?

One way is through nickpoint propagation. A nickpoint develops when the river's base level drops. (Base level dropping could be caused by sea level dropping, or the land uplifting, or other reasons.) On the river, you'd recognize a nickpoint as a waterfall or a series of rapids. Great Falls is a nickpoint along the Potomac, for instance, and so is Little Falls.

As water falls over the nickpoint, it excavates the rock which underlies the waterfall. As rock is removed, the nickpoint retreats in an upstream direction.

If base level were to drop again, perhaps due to sea level drop like seen here, it would cause a new nickpoint to develop close to base level. As time goes by, that nickpoint will work its way upstream too.

As each nickpoint propagates upstream, it carves a new channel, a new gorge. These gorges get longer because of nickpoint propagation, but they get wider due to mass wasting. The river chews its way downward, but that leaves large cliffs unsupported by the rock that used to hold them up. As a result, they tend to collapse into the river, which carries away the debris. So as time goes by, each nickpoint serves as the lead for a new valley carved in the middle of older, wider valleys. You could visualize these valleys as a nested series of "rowboat" shapes, each with a nickpoint at its bow. In the area of the Billy Goat Trail, Mather Gorge is the innermost and narrowest of these levels.

Why is Mather Gorge so straight? One possibility is that a major crack in the Earth's crust, a fault, runs along the bottom of Mather Gorge. This fault would have crumbled up the rocks along its surface, making for an easy spot where the river could erode away rock.

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Stitcher Notes


GigaPan Stitch version 2.1.0161 (Windows)
Panorama size: 3867 megapixels (154464 x 25036 pixels)
Input images: 440 (44 columns by 10 rows)
Field of view: 162.8 degrees wide by 26.4 degrees high (top=8.5, bottom=-17.9)
Vignette correction off
Original image properties:
Camera make: Canon
Camera model: Canon PowerShot SX260 HS
Image size: 4000x3000 (12.0 megapixels)
Capture time: 2012-12-20 13:48:06 - 2012-12-20 14:24:08
Aperture: f/6.8
Exposure time: 0.00625 - 0.05
ISO: 250 - 800
Focal length (35mm equiv.): 502.6 mm
Digital zoom: off
White balance: Automatic
Exposure mode: Automatic
Horizontal overlap: 9.5 to 23.3 percent
Vertical overlap: 11.8 to 28.0 percent
Computer stats: 3996.82 MB RAM, 2 CPUs
Total time 2:02:13 (17 seconds per picture)
Alignment: 49:17, Projection: 7:59, Blending: 1:04:57
(Preview finished in 1:06:46)

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