In earth science, erosion is the action of surface processes that removes soil, rock, or dissolved material from one location on the Earth's crust, transports it to another location. This natural process is caused by the dynamic activity of erosive agents, that is, ice, air, plants and humans. In accordance with these agents, erosion is sometimes divided into water erosion, glacial erosion, snow erosion, wind erosion, zoogenic erosion, anthropogenic erosion; the particulate breakdown of rock or soil into clastic sediment is referred to as physical or mechanical erosion. Eroded sediment or solutes may be transported just a few millimetres, or for thousands of kilometres. Natural rates of erosion are controlled by the action of geological weathering geomorphic drivers, such as rainfall; the rates at which such processes act control. Physical erosion proceeds fastest on steeply sloping surfaces, rates may be sensitive to some climatically-controlled properties including amounts of water supplied, wind speed, wave fetch, or atmospheric temperature.
Feedbacks are possible between rates of erosion and the amount of eroded material, carried by, for example, a river or glacier. Processes of erosion that produce sediment or solutes from a place contrast with those of deposition, which control the arrival and emplacement of material at a new location. While erosion is a natural process, human activities have increased by 10-40 times the rate at which erosion is occurring globally. At well-known agriculture sites such as the Appalachian Mountains, intensive farming practices have caused erosion up to 100x the speed of the natural rate of erosion in the region. Excessive erosion causes both "on-site" and "off-site" problems. On-site impacts include decreases in agricultural productivity and ecological collapse, both because of loss of the nutrient-rich upper soil layers. In some cases, the eventual end result is desertification. Off-site effects include sedimentation of waterways and eutrophication of water bodies, as well as sediment-related damage to roads and houses.
Water and wind erosion are the two primary causes of land degradation. Intensive agriculture, roads, anthropogenic climate change and urban sprawl are amongst the most significant human activities in regard to their effect on stimulating erosion. However, there are many prevention and remediation practices that can curtail or limit erosion of vulnerable soils. Rainfall, the surface runoff which may result from rainfall, produces four main types of soil erosion: splash erosion, sheet erosion, rill erosion, gully erosion. Splash erosion is seen as the first and least severe stage in the soil erosion process, followed by sheet erosion rill erosion and gully erosion. In splash erosion, the impact of a falling raindrop creates a small crater in the soil, ejecting soil particles; the distance these soil particles travel can be as much as 0.6 m vertically and 1.5 m horizontally on level ground. If the soil is saturated, or if the rainfall rate is greater than the rate at which water can infiltrate into the soil, surface runoff occurs.
If the runoff has sufficient flow energy, it will transport loosened soil particles down the slope. Sheet erosion is the transport of loosened soil particles by overland flow. Rill erosion refers to the development of small, ephemeral concentrated flow paths which function as both sediment source and sediment delivery systems for erosion on hillslopes. Where water erosion rates on disturbed upland areas are greatest, rills are active. Flow depths in rills are of the order of a few centimetres or less and along-channel slopes may be quite steep; this means that rills exhibit hydraulic physics different from water flowing through the deeper, wider channels of streams and rivers. Gully erosion occurs when runoff water accumulates and flows in narrow channels during or after heavy rains or melting snow, removing soil to a considerable depth. Valley or stream erosion occurs with continued water flow along a linear feature; the erosion is both downward, deepening the valley, headward, extending the valley into the hillside, creating head cuts and steep banks.
In the earliest stage of stream erosion, the erosive activity is dominantly vertical, the valleys have a typical V cross-section and the stream gradient is steep. When some base level is reached, the erosive activity switches to lateral erosion, which widens the valley floor and creates a narrow floodplain; the stream gradient becomes nearly flat, lateral deposition of sediments becomes important as the stream meanders across the valley floor. In all stages of stream erosion, by far the most erosion occurs during times of flood when more and faster-moving water is available to carry a larger sediment load. In such processes, it is not the water alone
In physical geography, a dune is a hill of loose sand built by aeolian processes or the flow of water. Dunes occur in different sizes, formed by interaction with the flow of air or water. Most kinds of dunes are longer on the stoss side, where the sand is pushed up the dune, have a shorter "slip face" in the lee side; the valley or trough between dunes is called a slack. A "dune field" or erg is an area covered by extensive dunes. Dunes occur along some coasts; some coastal areas have one or more sets of dunes running parallel to the shoreline directly inland from the beach. In most cases, the dunes are important in protecting the land against potential ravages by storm waves from the sea. Although the most distributed dunes are those associated with coastal regions, the largest complexes of dunes are found inland in dry regions and associated with ancient lake or sea beds. Dunes can form under the action of water flow, on sand or gravel beds of rivers and the sea-bed; the modern word "dune" came into English from French c.
1790, which in turn came from Middle Dutch dūne. Dunes are made of sand-sized particles, may consist of quartz, calcium carbonate, gypsum, or other materials; the upwind/upstream/upcurrent side of the dune is called the stoss side. Sand is pushed or bounces up the stoss side, slides down the lee side. A side of a dune that the sand has slid down is called a slip face; the Bagnold formula gives the speed. Five basic dune types are recognized: crescentic, star and parabolic. Dune areas may occur in three forms: simple and complex. Barchan dunes are crescent-shaped mounds which are wider than they are long; the lee-side slipfaces are on the concave sides of the dunes. These dunes form under winds that blow from one direction, they form separate crescents. When the sand supply is greater, they may merge into barchanoid ridges, transverse dunes; some types of crescentic dunes move more over desert surfaces than any other type of dune. A group of dunes moved more than 100 metres per year between 1954 and 1959 in China's Ningxia Province, similar speeds have been recorded in the Western Desert of Egypt.
The largest crescentic dunes on Earth, with mean crest-to-crest widths of more than three kilometres, are in China's Taklamakan Desert. See lunettes and parabolic dues, for dunes similar to crescent-shaped ones. Abundant barchan dunes may merge into barchanoid ridges, which grade into linear transverse dunes, so called because they lie transverse, or across, the wind direction, with the wind blowing perpendicular to the ridge crest. Seif dunes are linear dunes with two slip faces; the two slip faces make them sharp-crested. They are called seif dunes after the Arabic word for "sword", they may be more than 160 kilometres long, thus visible in satellite images. Seif dunes are associated with bidirectional winds; the long axes and ridges of these dunes extend along the resultant direction of sand movement. Some linear dunes merge to form Y-shaped compound dunes. Formation is debated. Bagnold, in The Physics of Blown Sand and Desert Dunes, suggested that some seif dunes form when a barchan dune moves into a bidirectional wind regime, one arm or wing of the crescent elongates.
Others suggest. In the sheltered troughs between developed seif dunes, barchans may be formed, because the wind is constrained to be unidirectional by the dunes. Seif dunes are common in the Sahara, they range up to 300 km in length. In the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula, a vast erg, called the Rub' al Khali or Empty Quarter, contains seif dunes that stretch for 200 km and reach heights of over 300 m. Linear loess hills known; these hills appear to have been formed during the last ice age under permafrost conditions dominated by sparse tundra vegetation. Radially symmetrical, star dunes are pyramidal sand mounds with slipfaces on three or more arms that radiate from the high center of the mound, they tend to accumulate in areas with multidirectional wind regimes. Star dunes grow upward rather than laterally, they dominate the Grand Erg Oriental of the Sahara. In other deserts, they occur around the margins of the sand seas near topographic barriers. In the southeast Badain Jaran Desert of China, the star dunes are up to 500 metres tall and may be the tallest dunes on Earth.
Oval or circular mounds that lack a slipface. Dome dunes occur at the far upwind margins of sand seas. Fixed crescentic dunes that form on the leeward margins of playas and river valleys in arid and semiarid regions in response to the direction of prevailing winds, are known as lunettes, source-bordering dunes and clay dunes, they may be composed of clay, sand, or gypsum, eroded from the basin floor or shore, transported up the concave side of the dune, deposited on the convex side. Examples in Australia are up to 6.5 km long, 1 km wide, up to 50 metres high. They occur in southern and West Africa, in parts of the western United States Texas. U-shaped mounds of sand with convex noses trailed by elongated arms are parabolic dunes; these dunes are formed from blowout dunes where the erosion
A hydrothermal vent is a fissure on the seafloor from which geothermally heated water issues. Hydrothermal vents are found near volcanically active places, areas where tectonic plates are moving apart at spreading centers, ocean basins, hotspots. Hydrothermal deposits are rocks and mineral ore deposits formed by the action of hydrothermal vents. Hydrothermal vents exist because the earth is both geologically active and has large amounts of water on its surface and within its crust. Under the sea, hydrothermal vents may form features called white smokers. Relative to the majority of the deep sea, the areas around submarine hydrothermal vents are biologically more productive hosting complex communities fueled by the chemicals dissolved in the vent fluids. Chemosynthetic bacteria and archaea form the base of the food chain, supporting diverse organisms, including giant tube worms, clams and shrimp. Active hydrothermal vents are believed to exist on Jupiter's moon Europa, Saturn's moon Enceladus, it is speculated that ancient hydrothermal vents once existed on Mars.
Hydrothermal vents in the deep ocean form along the mid-ocean ridges, such as the East Pacific Rise and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. These are locations where two tectonic plates are diverging and new crust is being formed; the water that issues from seafloor hydrothermal vents consists of sea water drawn into the hydrothermal system close to the volcanic edifice through faults and porous sediments or volcanic strata, plus some magmatic water released by the upwelling magma. In terrestrial hydrothermal systems, the majority of water circulated within the fumarole and geyser systems is meteoric water plus ground water that has percolated down into the thermal system from the surface, but it commonly contains some portion of metamorphic water, magmatic water, sedimentary formational brine, released by the magma; the proportion of each varies from location to location. In contrast to the 2 °C ambient water temperature at these depths, water emerges from these vents at temperatures ranging from 60 °C up to as high as 464 °C.
Due to the high hydrostatic pressure at these depths, water may exist in either its liquid form or as a supercritical fluid at such temperatures. The critical point of water is 375 °C at a pressure of 218 atmospheres. However, introducing salinity into the fluid raises the critical point to higher temperatures and pressures; the critical point of seawater is 407 °C and 298.5 bars, corresponding to a depth of ~2,960 m below sea level. Accordingly, if a hydrothermal fluid with a salinity of 3.2 wt. % NaCl vents above 407 °C and 298.5 bars, it is supercritical. Furthermore, the salinity of vent fluids have been shown to vary due to phase separation in the crust; the critical point for lower salinity fluids is at lower temperature and pressure conditions than that for seawater, but higher than that for pure water. For example, a vent fluid with a 2.24 wt. % NaCl salinity has the critical point at 280.5 bars. Thus, water emerging from the hottest parts of some hydrothermal vents can be a supercritical fluid, possessing physical properties between those of a gas and those of a liquid.
Examples of supercritical venting are found at several sites. Sister Peak vents low salinity phase-separated, vapor-type fluids. Sustained venting was not found to be supercritical but a brief injection of 464 °C was well above supercritical conditions. A nearby site, Turtle Pits, was found to vent low salinity fluid at 407 °C, above the critical point of the fluid at that salinity. A vent site in the Cayman Trough named Beebe, the world's deepest known hydrothermal site at ~5,000 m below sea level, has shown sustained supercritical venting at 401 °C and 2.3 wt% NaCl. Although supercritical conditions have been observed at several sites, it is not yet known what significance, if any, supercritical venting has in terms of hydrothermal circulation, mineral deposit formation, geochemical fluxes or biological activity; the initial stages of a vent chimney begin with the deposition of the mineral anhydrite. Sulfides of copper and zinc precipitate in the chimney gaps, making it less porous over the course of time.
Vent growths on the order of 30 cm per day have been recorded. An April 2007 exploration of the deep-sea vents off the coast of Fiji found those vents to be a significant source of dissolved iron; some hydrothermal vents form cylindrical chimney structures. These form from minerals; when the superheated water contacts the near-freezing sea water, the minerals precipitate out to form particles which add to the height of the stacks. Some of these chimney structures can reach heights of 60 m. An example of such a towering vent was "Godzilla", a structure on the Pacific Ocean deep seafloor near Oregon that rose to 40 m before it fell over in 1996. A black smoker or deep sea vent is a type of hydrothermal vent found on the seabed in the bathyal zone, but in lesser depths as well as deeper in abyssal zone, they appear as chimney-like structures that emit a cloud of black material. Black smokers emit particles with high levels of sulfur-bearing minerals, or sulfides. Black smokers are formed in fields hundreds of meters wide when superheated water from below Earth's crust comes through the ocean floor.
This water is most notably sulfides. When it
A microclimate is a local set of atmospheric conditions that differ from those in the surrounding areas with a slight difference but sometimes with a substantial one. The term may refer to areas as small as a few square meters or square feet or as large as many square kilometers or square miles; because climate is statistical, which implies spatial and temporal variation of the mean values of the describing parameters, within a region there can occur and persist over time sets of statistically distinct conditions, that is, microclimates. Microclimates can be found in most places. Microclimates exist, for example, near bodies of water which may cool the local atmosphere, or in heavy urban areas where brick and asphalt absorb the sun's energy, heat up, re-radiate that heat to the ambient air: the resulting urban heat island is a kind of microclimate. Another contributing factor of microclimate is the aspect of an area. South-facing slopes in the Northern Hemisphere and north-facing slopes in the Southern Hemisphere are exposed to more direct sunlight than opposite slopes and are therefore warmer for longer periods of time, giving the slope a warmer microclimate than the areas around the slope.
The lowest area of a glen may sometimes frost sooner or harder than a nearby spot uphill, because cold air sinks, a drying breeze may not reach the lowest bottom, humidity lingers and precipitates freezes. The terminology "micro-climate" first appeared in the 1950s in publications such as Climates in Miniature: A Study of Micro-Climate Environment; the area in a developed industrial park may vary from a wooded park nearby, as natural flora in parks absorb light and heat in leaves that a building roof or parking lot just radiates back into the air. Advocates of solar energy argue that widespread use of solar collection can mitigate overheating of urban environments by absorbing sunlight and putting it to work instead of heating the foreign surface objects. A microclimate can offer an opportunity as a small growing region for crops that cannot thrive in the broader area. Microclimates can be used to the advantage of gardeners who choose and position their plants. Cities raise the average temperature by zoning, a sheltered position can reduce the severity of winter.
Roof gardening, exposes plants to more extreme temperatures in both summer and winter. In an urban area, tall buildings create their own microclimate, both by overshadowing large areas and by channeling strong winds to ground level. Wind effects around tall buildings are assessed as part of a microclimate study. Microclimates can refer to purpose-made environments, such as those in a room or other enclosure. Microclimates are created and maintained in museum display and storage environments; this can be done using passive methods, such as silica gel, or with active microclimate control devices. If the inland areas have a humid continental climate, the coastal areas stay much milder during winter months, in contrast to the hotter summers; this is the case further north on the American west coast, such as in British Columbia, where Vancouver has an oceanic wet winter with rare frosts, but inland areas that average several degrees warmer in summer have cold and snowy winters. The type of soil found in an area can affect microclimates.
For example, soils heavy in clay can act like pavement. On the other hand, if soil has many air pockets the heat could be trapped underneath the topsoil, resulting in the increased possibility of frost at ground level. Two main parameters to define a microclimate within a certain area are humidity. A source of a drop in temperature and/or humidity can be attributed to different sources or influences. Microclimate is shaped by a conglomerate of different influences and is a subject of microscale meteorology; the well known examples of cold air pool effect are Gstettneralm Sinkhole in Austria and Peter Sinks in the US. The main criterion on the wind speed v in order to create a warm air flow penetration into a CAP is the following: F r = v N h ≥ F r c, where F r is the Froude number, N --- the Brunt–Väisälä frequency, h --- depth of the valley, F r c --- Froude number at the threshold wind speed; the presence of permafrost close to the surface in a crater creates a unique microclimate environment.
As similar as lava tubes can be to caves which are not formed due to volcanic activity the microclimate within the former is different due to dominant presence of basalt. Lava tubes and basaltic caves are important astrobiological targets on Mars; as pointed out by Rudolf Geiger in his book not only climate influences the living plant but the opposite effect of the interaction of plants on their environment can take place, is known as plant climate. Artificial reservoirs as well as natural ones create microclimates and influence the macroscopic climate as well. Northern California above the Bay Area is well known for microclimates with significant differences of temperatures; the coastline averages between 17 and 1
A coral reef is an underwater ecosystem characterized by reef-building corals. Reefs are formed of colonies of coral polyps held together by calcium carbonate. Most coral reefs are built from stony corals. Coral belongs to the class Anthozoa in the animal phylum Cnidaria, which includes sea anemones and jellyfish. Unlike sea anemones, corals secrete hard carbonate exoskeletons that protect the coral. Most reefs grow best in warm, clear and agitated water. Called "rainforests of the sea", shallow coral reefs form some of Earth's most diverse ecosystems, they occupy less than 0.1% of the world's ocean area, about half the area of France, yet they provide a home for at least 25% of all marine species, including fish, worms, echinoderms, sponges and other cnidarians. Coral reefs flourish in ocean waters, they are most found at shallow depths in tropical waters, but deep water and cold water coral reefs exist on smaller scales in other areas. Coral reefs deliver ecosystem services for tourism and shoreline protection.
The annual global economic value of coral reefs is estimated between US$30–375 billion and 9.9 trillion USD. Coral reefs are fragile because they are sensitive to water conditions, they are under threat from excess nutrients, rising temperatures, oceanic acidification, sunscreen use, harmful land-use practices, including runoff and seeps. Most coral reefs were formed after the last glacial period when melting ice caused sea level to rise and flood continental shelves. Most coral reefs are less than 10,000 years old; as communities established themselves, the reefs grew pacing rising sea levels. Reefs that rose too could become drowned, without sufficient light. Coral reefs are found in the deep sea away from continental shelves, around oceanic islands and atolls; the majority of these islands are volcanic in origin. Others have tectonic origins. In The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs, Charles Darwin set out his theory of the formation of atoll reefs, an idea he conceived during the voyage of the Beagle.
He theorized that subsidence of the Earth's crust under the oceans formed the atolls. Darwin set out a sequence of three stages in atoll formation. A fringing reef forms around an extinct volcanic island as the ocean floor subsides; as the subsidence continues, the fringing reef becomes a barrier reef and an atoll reef. Darwin predicted that underneath each lagoon would be a bedrock base, the remains of the original volcano. Subsequent research supported this hypothesis. Darwin's theory followed from his understanding that coral polyps thrive in the tropics where the water is agitated, but can only live within a limited depth range, starting just below low tide. Where the level of the underlying earth allows, the corals grow around the coast to form fringing reefs, can grow to become a barrier reef. Where the bottom is rising, fringing reefs can grow around the coast, but coral raised above sea level dies. If the land subsides the fringing reefs keep pace by growing upwards on a base of older, dead coral, forming a barrier reef enclosing a lagoon between the reef and the land.
A barrier reef can encircle an island, once the island sinks below sea level a circular atoll of growing coral continues to keep up with the sea level, forming a central lagoon. Barrier reefs and atolls do not form complete circles, but are broken in places by storms. Like sea level rise, a subsiding bottom can overwhelm coral growth, killing the coral and the reef, due to what is called coral drowning. Corals that rely on zooxanthellae can die when the water becomes too deep for their symbionts to adequately photosynthesize, due to decreased light exposure; the two main variables determining the geomorphology, or shape, of coral reefs are the nature of the substrate on which they rest, the history of the change in sea level relative to that substrate. The 20,000-year-old Great Barrier Reef offers an example of how coral reefs formed on continental shelves. Sea level was 120 m lower than in the 21st century; as sea level rose, the water and the corals encroached on what had been hills of the Australian coastal plain.
By 13,000 years ago, sea level had risen to 60 m lower than at present, many hills of the coastal plains had become continental islands. As sea level rise continued, water topped most of the continental islands; the corals could overgrow the hills, forming cays and reefs. Sea level on the Great Barrier Reef has not changed in the last 6,000 years; the age of living reef structure is estimated to be between 8,000 years. Although the Great Barrier Reef formed along a continental shelf, not around a volcanic island, Darwin's principles apply. Development stopped at the barrier reef stage, it formed 300 -- 1,000 m from shore, stretching for 2,000 km. Healthy tropical coral reefs grow horizontally from 1 to 3 cm per year, grow vertically anywhere from 1 to 25 cm per year; as the name implies, coral reefs are made up of coral skeletons from intact coral colonies. As other chemical elements present in corals become incorporated into the calcium carbonate deposits, aragonite is formed. However
A seamount is a mountain rising from the ocean seafloor that does not reach to the water's surface, thus is not an island, islet or cliff-rock. Seamounts are formed from extinct volcanoes that rise abruptly and are found rising from the seafloor to 1,000–4,000 m in height, they are defined by oceanographers as independent features that rise to at least 1,000 m above the seafloor, characteristically of conical form. The peaks are found hundreds to thousands of meters below the surface, are therefore considered to be within the deep sea. During their evolution over geologic time, the largest seamounts may reach the sea surface where wave action erodes the summit to form a flat surface. After they have subsided and sunk below the sea surface such flat-top seamounts are called "guyots" or "tablemounts"A total of 9,951 seamounts and 283 guyots, covering a total of 8,796,150 km2 have been mapped but only a few have been studied in detail by scientists. Seamounts and guyots are most abundant in the North Pacific Ocean, follow a distinctive evolutionary pattern of eruption, build-up, subsidence and erosion.
In recent years, several active seamounts have been observed, for example Loihi in the Hawaiian Islands. Because of their abundance, seamounts are one of the most common marine ecosystems in the world. Interactions between seamounts and underwater currents, as well as their elevated position in the water, attract plankton, corals and marine mammals alike, their aggregational effect has been noted by the commercial fishing industry, many seamounts support extensive fisheries. There are ongoing concerns on the negative impact of fishing on seamount ecosystems, well-documented cases of stock decline, for example with the orange roughy. 95 % of ecological damage is done by bottom trawling. Because of their large numbers, many seamounts remain to be properly studied, mapped. Bathymetry and satellite altimetry are two technologies working to close the gap. There have been instances. However, the greatest danger from seamounts are flank collapses. Seamounts can be found in every ocean basin in the world, distributed widely both in space and in age.
A seamount is technically defined as an isolated rise in elevation of 1,000 m or more from the surrounding seafloor, with a limited summit area, of conical form. If small knolls and hills less than 1,000 m in height are included there are over 100,000 seamounts in the world ocean. Most seamounts are volcanic in origin, thus tend to be found on oceanic crust near mid-ocean ridges, mantle plumes, island arcs. Overall and guyot coverage is greatest as a proportion of seafloor area in the North Pacific Ocean, equal to 4.39% of that ocean region. The Arctic Ocean has only 16 seamounts and no guyots, the Mediterranean and Black seas together have only 23 seamounts and 2 guyots; the 9,951 seamounts mapped cover an area of 8,088,550 km2. Seamounts have an average area of 790 km2, with the smallest seamounts found in the Arctic Ocean and the Mediterranean and Black Seas, whilst the largest mean seamount size occurs in the Indian Ocean 890 km2; the largest seamount has an area of 15,500 km2 and it occurs in the North Pacific.
Guyots cover a total area of 707,600 km2 and have an average area of 2,500 km2, more than twice the average size of seamounts. Nearly 50% of guyot area and 42% of the number of guyots occur in the North Pacific Ocean, covering 342,070 km2; the largest three guyots are all in the North Pacific: the Kuko Guyot, Suiko Guyot and the Pallada Guyot. "Seamount chain" redirects here. Seamounts are found in groupings or submerged archipelagos, a classic example being the Emperor Seamounts, an extension of the Hawaiian Islands. Formed millions of years ago by volcanism, they have since subsided far below sea level; this long chain of islands and seamounts extends thousands of kilometers northwest from the island of Hawaii. There are more seamounts in the Pacific Ocean than in the Atlantic, their distribution can be described as comprising several elongate chains of seamounts superimposed on a more or less random background distribution. Seamount chains occur in all three major ocean basins, with the Pacific having the most number and most extensive seamount chains.
These include the Hawaiian, Gilbert and Austral Seamounts in the north Pacific and the Louisville and Sala y Gomez ridges in the southern Pacific Ocean. In the North Atlantic Ocean, the New England Seamounts extend from the eastern coast of the United States to the mid-ocean ridge. Craig and Sandwell noted that clusters of larger Atlantic seamounts tend to be associated with other evidence of hotspot activity, such as on the Walvis Ridge, Bermuda Islands and Cape Verde Islands; the mid-Atlantic ridge and spreading ridges in the Indian Ocean are associated with abundant seamounts. Otherwise, seamounts tend not to form distinctive chains in the Indian and Southern Oceans, but rather their distribution appears to be more or less random. Isolated seamounts and those without clear volcanic origins are less commo
An estuary is a enclosed coastal body of brackish water with one or more rivers or streams flowing into it, with a free connection to the open sea. Estuaries form a transition zone between river environments and maritime environments, they are subject both to marine influences—such as tides and the influx of saline water—and to riverine influences—such as flows of fresh water and sediment. The mixing of sea water and fresh water provide high levels of nutrients both in the water column and in sediment, making estuaries among the most productive natural habitats in the world. Most existing estuaries formed during the Holocene epoch with the flooding of river-eroded or glacially scoured valleys when the sea level began to rise about 10,000–12,000 years ago. Estuaries are classified according to their geomorphological features or to water-circulation patterns, they can have many different names, such as bays, lagoons, inlets, or sounds, although some of these water bodies do not meet the above definition of an estuary and may be saline.
The banks of many estuaries are amongst the most populated areas of the world, with about 60% of the world's population living along estuaries and the coast. As a result, many estuaries suffer degradation from a variety of factors including: sedimentation from soil erosion from deforestation and other poor farming practices; the word "estuary" is derived from the Latin word aestuarium meaning tidal inlet of the sea, which in itself is derived from the term aestus, meaning tide. There have been many definitions proposed to describe an estuary; the most accepted definition is: "a semi-enclosed coastal body of water, which has a free connection with the open sea, within which sea water is measurably diluted with freshwater derived from land drainage". However, this definition excludes a number of coastal water bodies such as coastal lagoons and brackish seas. A more comprehensive definition of an estuary is "a semi-enclosed body of water connected to the sea as far as the tidal limit or the salt intrusion limit and receiving freshwater runoff.
This broad definition includes fjords, river mouths, tidal creeks. An estuary is a dynamic ecosystem having a connection to the open sea through which the sea water enters with the rhythm of the tides; the sea water entering the estuary streams. The pattern of dilution varies between different estuaries and depends on the volume of fresh water, the tidal range, the extent of evaporation of the water in the estuary. Drowned river valleys are known as coastal plain estuaries. In places where the sea level is rising relative to the land, sea water progressively penetrates into river valleys and the topography of the estuary remains similar to that of a river valley; this is the most common type of estuary in temperate climates. Well-studied estuaries include the Severn Estuary in the United Kingdom and the Ems Dollard along the Dutch-German border; the width-to-depth ratio of these estuaries is large, appearing wedge-shaped in the inner part and broadening and deepening seaward. Water depths exceed 30 m.
Examples of this type of estuary in the U. S. are the Hudson River, Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay along the Mid-Atlantic coast, Galveston Bay and Tampa Bay along the Gulf Coast. Bar-built estuaries are found in place where the deposition of sediment has kept pace with rising sea level so that the estuaries are shallow and separated from the sea by sand spits or barrier islands, they are common in tropical and subtropical locations. These estuaries are semi-isolated from ocean waters by barrier beaches. Formation of barrier beaches encloses the estuary, with only narrow inlets allowing contact with the ocean waters. Bar-built estuaries develop on sloping plains located along tectonically stable edges of continents and marginal sea coasts, they are extensive along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the U. S. in areas with active coastal deposition of sediments and where tidal ranges are less than 4 m. The barrier beaches that enclose bar-built estuaries have been developed in several ways: building up of offshore bars by wave action, in which sand from the sea floor is deposited in elongated bars parallel to the shoreline, reworking of sediment discharge from rivers by wave and wind action into beaches, overwash flats, dunes, engulfment of mainland beach ridges due to sea level rise and resulting in the breaching of the ridges and flooding of the coastal lowlands, forming shallow lagoons, elongation of barrier spits from the erosion of headlands due to the action of longshore currents, with the spits growing in the direction of the littoral drift.
Barrier beaches form in shallow water and are parallel to the shoreline, resulting in long, narrow estuaries. The average water depth is less than 5 m, exceeds 10 m. Examples of bar-built estuaries are Barnegat Bay, New Jersey. Fjords were formed where pleistocene glaciers deepened and widened existing river valleys so that they become U-shaped in cross s