Can springs cut canyons into rock?



[1] Amphitheater-headed valleys on Earth and Mars are often assumed to result from erosion by emerging spring water (i.e., seepage erosion or groundwater sapping) rather than by surface runoff. The origin of such valleys has implications for landscape evolution on Earth and the hydrologic cycle and associated potential for life on other planets. In this paper we explore the evidence for seepage erosion in bedrock to address whether valley morphology can be used as a diagnostic indicator of seepage erosion. Seepage erosion is an important process in loose sediment where hydraulic forces cause grain detachment, often resulting in amphitheater-headed valleys. However, the extension of these processes to resistant rock is uncertain. In sedimentary rocks, groundwater might control the shape and rate of valley formation. It is possible, however, that seepage plays only a secondary role to runoff processes. This seems likely in basaltic valleys on Earth, where little evidence exists for seepage erosion. Since the ability of seepage to erode bedrock valleys remains unclear and because many amphitheater-headed valleys were probably carved by other processes, seepage erosion should not be inferred based solely on valley form.