Stream power is the power available to transport sediment load, and it may be defined as γQS, where γ is specific weight of water, Q is stream discharge, and S is slope. Critical power is the power needed to transport sediment load. The threshold of critical power is where stream power/critical power = 1.0. Where stream power exceeds critical power during long time spans, additional sediment load is obtained by vertical erosion that cuts V-shaped cross-valley profiles in bedrock. The threshold is approached asymptotically during downcutting, and high-order streams approach the threshold more rapidly than do low-order streams. High discharges cause net lateral erosion in reaches near the threshold. Straths and flood plains form under such conditions. Where stream power is less than critical power, selective bedload sedimentation decreases sediment load and size and therefore the critical power. Such deposition is self-enhancing because of concurrent decreases in slope. Thus, it is unlikely that aggrading reaches attain the threshold, but the tendency to attain the threshold may keep stream and critical power roughly the same. Reaches of streams at the critical-power threshold are sensitive to changes in climate, base level, and the impact of humans; these may change stream and/or critical power and result in aggradation or degradation.

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