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Most waterfalls inform a transparent story about their origins: Yosemite Falls in California cascades over a sheer granite cliff, the stays of ice age glaciers that after carved out the valley’s steep partitions. Others are the results of main earthquakes or sudden modifications in rock kind. However some, just like the Seven Teacups in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains (above), haven’t any apparent exterior trigger. Now, scientists have a brand new potential rationalization for these mysterious waterfalls.

What makes the Seven Teacups so inscrutable is the unbroken granite slope they’re etched into. There’s no sudden cliff to recommend that previous earthquakes or retreating glaciers created the falls, and the composition of the granite is roughly the identical all through, that means a change from tougher to softer rock wasn’t chargeable for the falls’ creation.

To check whether or not such a waterfall might type with out exterior causes, researchers constructed a 7.3-meter synthetic river, or flume, with a 20% downhill slope. For 20 minutes at a time, researchers despatched a gradual stream of gravel-laden water alongside a flat riverbed made of soppy foam. Then, the workforce used a laser scanner to measure any modifications within the floor of the froth riverbed.

Over the course of 11 trials, the gravel and water wore away tiny undulations within the foam. Two of these depressions bought deeper and deeper till they turned miniature, selfmade waterfalls, the researchers report right this moment in Nature. Suggestions from the water, the gravel, and the erosion of the synthetic riverbed interacted to make the cascades, suggesting the identical mechanism might be chargeable for waterfalls just like the Seven Teacups.

To find out how widespread this phenomenon is, the researchers say they’ll must chase extra waterfalls—and develop some option to determine these selfmade cascades. The findings might make clear the origins of such waterfalls on Earth and even Mars, the place astronomers have noticed dried-up riverbeds—and what often is the stays of martian waterfalls. If waterfalls can come up with out exterior causes, scientists will must be cautious in utilizing them to reverse engineer the Purple Planet’s historical past.

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