Baffin Island Waterfall
Photograph by Paul Nicklen
A waterfall fed by glacial runoff tumbles over sheer cliffs and into the turquoise water of Admiralty Inlet on Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada. Such moving water is among the most powerful of nature's landscape-altering tools.
Outer Banks Sandbars
Photograph by David Alan Harvey
Sandbars swirl beneath Oregon Inlet in Cape Hatteras National Seashore on North Carolina's Outer Banks. Waves driven by ocean winds can cause the sandbars here to shift and change literally by the hour, making conditions hazardous for boats.
Photograph by Larry Fellows, Arizona Geological Survey
With the snow-draped Sierra Nevada as a backdrop, unique erosion formations called sand tufa stand like giant cauliflower stalks in a dry Arizona lake bed. Before this alkaline lake went dry, tufa formed when a freshwater spring percolated from below and formed calcium carbonate deposits. When the lake's level dropped, these fragile formations surfaced, and wind went to work removing the sand beneath the deposits.
Photograph by Jack Dykinga
Desert winds sculpted these gentle swirls out of the limestone hills in Black Gap Wildlife Management Area, Texas. This remote, 100,000-acre (40,470-hectare) area in West Texas contains some of the lowest, driest, and hottest areas in the Chihuahuan Desert.
Photograph by Richard Olsenius
Persistent winds in the mountains of Nevada's Great Basin National Park eroded the trunk of this old pine tree into what look like a pair of sideways spectacles. The Great Basin hosts drastically varied climates, from its cold, snowy mountains to its dry, hot desert valley.
Arizona Rock Formation
Photograph by Melissa Farlow
Winds sweeping through the Grand Canyon have eroded this sandstone outcrop into an anvil shape. Wind shapes these fantastical forms by eroding less dense rock, like sandstone, faster than surrounding rock.
Photograph by Melissa Farlow
Wind erosion makes these layered sandstone hills swirl in Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area. The area, whose 112,500 acres (45,540 hectares) straddle the Utah-Arizona border, is home to sandstone arches, huge red rock amphitheaters, and hanging gardens.
Lichens on Granite
Photograph by Stephen Sharnoff
White lichens cover a blue granite gravestone like snow near Lake Champlain, New York. Lichens, symbiotic organisms that combine fungi and algae, can be powerful weathering agents, secreting chemicals called chelates that work to break down rock.
Photograph by Michael Collier
A thunderstorm does its part to shape Utah's Mussentuchit Badlands. Although this area gets only scant rainfall, over centuries, precipitation and wind have taken turns creating this rugged land's hundreds of gullies, ravines, and washes.
Photograph by Lynn Betts, NRCS
Heavy rains in northwest Iowa washed away soil, leaving this scarred tableau. This type of erosion, termed sheet-and-rill erosion, occurs when there is insufficient vegetation to hold soil in place. As rain falls, it forms sheets of surface water that transport soil away. As more water accumulates, it forms runoff channels called rills, which further displace soil.
Photograph by George F. Mobley
The Bernard Glacier in Alaska's Saint Elias Mountains looks like a huge alpine highway. Glaciers are slow but highly effective shapers of the land, essentially carrying away anything in their path—from soil and rocks to hills and even the sides of mountains.
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