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How do waterfalls form? Sometimes, all by themselves

Many of us are captivated by waterfalls. How do these cascades form? The answer, a team of geologists has found, is that sometimes waterfalls spring to life all by themselves. Using a scale-model riverbed 24 feet long and 1 foot wide, the scientists have found a new mechanism that could lead to the formation of waterfalls. It doesn’t require forces such as tectonics, changes in climate, landslides or glaciers. The experiment, the researchers say, used synthetic bedrock made of polyurethane foam, which lacks the differences in rock characteristics known to cause waterfall formation. And like natural rock, the foam resists erosion by water alone. Small waterfalls upstream of Bridalveil Falls in Yosemite, and waterfalls in Eaton and Rubio Canyons in the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles, may have self-formed, according to the scientists.

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