Waterfall Classifications - Types of Waterfalls
Western North Carolina has literally hundreds of waterfalls in a wide variety of types and sizes. Because of the mountainous terrain, even the largest rivers typically have at least one or two waterfalls. All of these waterfalls, large and small, have different appearances and qualities. Some are very tall and narrow, falling almost vertically, while others are wider than they are tall and fall gradually or in several different drops. While there is no official listing of waterfall classifications, each waterfall's appearance and manner of formation can generally be described by one or more of the following types:
- Cataract: This term is used to describe waterfalls that have a large volume of flow.
- Cascade: Cascade usually refers to smaller waterfalls that usually bounce along large surfaces of rock (or rock steps) rather than plunge over a cliff.
- Rapids: Rapids are small, interrupted sections of river that exhibit white water.
- Shoals: This classification is usually applied to broad waterfalls that are much wider than they are tall. Shoal waterfalls are also occasionally referred to as "block" waterfalls.
- Fan: Fan waterfalls spread horizontally as they descend while remaining in contact with bedrock (the softer strata of rock underneath/behind the waterfall).
- Horsetail: The flow of horsetail waterfalls descends while maintaining some contact with bedrock.
- Plunge: Plunge waterfalls descend directly downward and lose contact with the bedrock surface.
- Punchbowl: Punchbowl waterfalls descend in a constricted form and then spread out in a wider pool.
- Segmented: Waterfalls that form multiple, separate flows of water (across the rock horizontally) as they descend are said to be 'segmented.'
- Tiered: Tiered waterfalls drop downward in a series of distinct steps or falls.
- Multi-step: This classification describes a series of waterfalls, one after the other, that are approximately the same size and each possessing its own plunge pool.