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A waterfall is usually a geological formation resulting from water, often in the form of a stream, flowing over an erosion-resistant rock formation that forms a sudden break in elevation. Waterfalls may also be artificial, and they are sometimes created as garden and landscape ornament.
Some waterfalls form in mountain environments where erosion is rapid and stream courses may be subject to sudden and catastrophic change. In such cases, the waterfall may not be the end product of many years of water action over a region, but rather the result of relatively sudden geological processes such as thrust faults or volcanic action.
Typically, a stream flow across an area of formations strata will form shelves across the streamway, elevated above the further stream bed when the less erosion-resistant rock around it disappears. Over a period of years, the edges of this shelf will gradually break away and the waterfall will steadily move upstream. Often, the rock strata just below the more resistant shelf will be of a softer type, and will erode out to form a shallow cave-like formation known as a rock shelter (also known as a rock house) under and behind the waterfall.
Waterfalls can also form due to glaciation, whereby a stream or river flowing into a glacier continues to flow into a valley after the glacier has receded or melted. The large waterfalls in Yosemite Valley are examples of this phenomenon.
Streams often become wider and more shallow just above waterfalls due to flowing over the rock shelf, and there is usually a deep pool just below the waterfall due to the kinetic energy of the water hitting the bottom.