Rapids and waterfalls are both hydrological features but differ in their formation and the flow of water.

Comparison chart

Rapid versus Waterfall comparison chart
Edit this comparison chartRapidWaterfall
About A part of river where current is very fast and rough A permanent flow of water over the edge of an erosion-resistant cliff.
Formation Forms due to increase in water flow characterized by a river becoming shallower. Forms due to sudden break in elevation or nickpoint of a rock due to water flowing over it.
Created by Four factors, separately or in combination, can create rapids: gradient, constriction, obstruction, and flow rate. Creation of a steep, vertical drop and a plunge pool into which the water of river falls.
Examples Violent water below Niagara Falls, Des Moines Rapids, etc. Angel Falls, Boyoma Falls, Victoria Falls, etc.
Types Six Ten

What is a rapid and what exactly is a waterfall?

A rapid is a part of river where current is very fast because of relatively steep gradient of river bed at that place causing an increase in water flow and turbulence. It is the hydrological feature between a smoothly flowing part of a stream (run) and a sudden downpour (cascade).A waterfall is a permanent flow of water over the edge of an erosion-resistant cliff. It is a geological formation resulting from the sudden break in elevation or knickpoint of rock.

Formation of rapids vs waterfalls

A waterfall flowing over an erosion-resistant rock forms due to a sudden break in elevation or knickpoint. Streams become wider and shallow just above the waterfalls, and generally there deep pool at the place where water falls due to kinetic energy of the water hitting the bottom. On the other hand, a rapid forms due to shallowing of the river characterized by some rocks exposed above the water surface. These rocks are generally more erosion-resistant as compare to its neighborhood rocks beneath the water flow.

Creation factors for waterfalls vs rapids

Four factors, separately or in combination, can create rapids: gradient, constriction, obstruction, and flow rate. Gradient, constriction, and obstruction are streambed topography factors and are relatively consistent. Flow rate is dependent upon both seasonal variation in precipitation and snowmelt and upon release rates of upstream dams.On the other hand, when a river flows over a bed of rock that resists erosion, weaker rocks downstream are worn away, creating a steep, vertical drop and a plunge pool into which the water falls. This eroded rock and vertical drop and plunge pool are the factors influencing a Waterfall. Over time, continuing erosion causes the waterfall to retreat upstream forming a deep valley.

Examples of rapids and waterfalls

Waterfalls are common in the mountains. This is due to the sudden and catastrophic change in stream course in hilly areas. It can also be because of water flowing over the same rock for many years and also sudden environmental changes like land slides, earthquakes, etc. Angel Falls in Venezuela is the highest waterfall in the World; Boyoma Falls has the largest volume of water (600,000 cubic feet per second); Victoria Falls is the widest in the World. Violent water below Niagara Falls is one of the examples of a rapid. The Des Moines Rapids is one of two major rapids on the Mississippi River

Types of rapids and waterfalls

While there are six types of rapids, there are 10 types of waterfalls.

Types of Rapids

The various types of Rapids are classified on the basis of navigational difficulty. The six types of rapids are:

Types of waterfalls

The types of waterfalls are:

Artificially created waterfalls

Sometimes for their aesthetic value, Waterfalls are created, on a small scale, in gardens. Rapids cannot be created like this.

References

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"Rapid vs Waterfall." Diffen.com. Diffen LLC, n.d. Web. 3 Dec 2016. < >