Rapids are areas of shallow, fast-flowing water in a stream.
Rapids tend to form in younger streams, with water flow that is straighter and faster than in older streams. Softer rocks in the streambed erode, or wear away, faster than harder rocks. This process is known as differential erosion. The result of differential erosion is that as the streambed wears away, the stronger rocks remain and eventually begin to break up the flow of the stream. The many tiny waterfalls they create make the slope of the stream more steep.
The safety of a section of river is measured by the class, or level, of its rapids. The class of a rapid determines how difficult it is to navigate using a kayak, raft, or other vessel.
- Class I: Small waves, no obstacles.
- Class II: Medium waves, no obstacles.
- Class III: Many waves of different strengths, many obstacles, narrow passages.
- Class IV: Many strong waves, many dangerous obstacles, whirlpools.
- Class V: Constant strong waves, constant obstacles, whirlpools, fast currents, some waterfalls.
- Class VI: (also classified as U, for "unraftable") Constant strong waves, constant obstacles, whirlpools, fast currents, steep waterfalls.
Rapids can be important to the health of a stream system. The water splashing over rocks captures air in bubbles. This splashing, called whitewater, leads to more dissolved oxygen in the water. The oxygen is useful to fish, insects, and bacteria in the water, and in turn to the ecosystem around the stream.
Many rivers have different stretches with different classes of rapids. The class of rapids can also depend on the weather. A monsoon or drought can increase or decrease the class of rapids.
The Wang Thong River in Thailand, for instance, has slow-moving, smooth stretches of Class I rapids as well as wild, fast-moving whitewater rapids that are often Class V.
(singular: bacterium) single-celled organisms found in every ecosystem on Earth.
steady, predictable flow of fluid within a larger body of that fluid.
the process of softer rocks wearing away faster than hard rocks.
period of greatly reduced precipitation.
community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.
to wear away.
type of animal that breathes air and has a body divided into three segments, with six legs and usually wings.
seasonal change in the direction of the prevailing winds of a region. Monsoon usually refers to the winds of the Indian Ocean and South Asia, which often bring heavy rains.
to plan and direct the course of a journey.
something that slows or stops progress.
chemical element with the symbol O, whose gas form is 21% of the Earth's atmosphere.
areas of fast-flowing water in a river or stream that is making a slight descent.
large stream of flowing fresh water.
extreme incline or decline.
body of flowing fluid.
material at the bottom of a stream.
flow of water descending steeply over a cliff. Also called a cascade.
llquid flowing quickly in a circular motion, pulling material downward into its center.
fast-moving parts of a river.