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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Natural Bridges" redirects here; for the US National Monument, see Natural Bridges National Monument.

A natural arch or natural bridge is a natural formation (or landform) where a rock arch forms, with a natural passageway through underneath. Most natural arches form as a narrow ridge, walled by cliffs, become narrower from erosion, with a softer rock stratum under the cliff-forming stratum gradually eroding out until the rock shelters thus formed meet underneath the ridge, thus forming the arch. Natural arches commonly form where cliffs are subject to erosion from the sea, rivers or weathering (sub-aerial processes); the processes "find" weaknesses in rocks and work on them, making them bigger until they break through.

The choice of "bridge" vs "arch" is somewhat arbitrary. The Natural Arch and Bridge Society identifies a bridge as a subtype of arch that is primarily water-formed.[1] By contrast, the Dictionary of Geological Terms[2] defines a natural bridge as a "natural arch that spans a valley of erosion."



On coasts this can form two different types of arches depending on the geology. On discordant coastlines rock types run at 90° to the coast. Wave refraction concentrates the wave energy on the headland, and an arch forms when caves break through the headland, e.g., London Bridge in (Victoria, Australia). When these eventually collapse, they form stacks and stumps. On concordant coastlines rock types run parallel to the coastline, with weak rock (such as shale) protected by stronger rock (such as limestone) the wave action breaks through the strong rock and then erodes the weak rock very quickly. Good examples of this are at Durdle Door and Stair Hole near Lulworth Cove on the Dorset Jurassic Coast in south England, although these are on an area of concordant coastline. When Stair Hole eventually collapses, it will form a cove.

Weather-eroded arches

Sequence of arch formation
  1. Deep cracks penetrate into a sandstone layer.
  2. Erosion wears away exposed rock layers and enlarges the surface cracks, isolating narrow sandstone walls, or fins.
  3. Alternating frosts and thawing cause crumbling and flaking of the porous sandstone and eventually cut through some of the fins.
  4. The resulting holes become enlarged to arch proportions by rockfalls and weathering. Arches eventually collapse, leaving only buttresses that in time will erode.

Water-eroded arches

A topographic map of Coyote Natural Bridge in Utah, USA shows how the meandering Coyote Gulch carved a shorter route through the rock under the arch. The old riverbed is now higher than the present water level.

Some natural bridges may look like arches, but they form in the path of streams that wear away and penetrate the rock. Pothole arches form by chemical weathering as water collects in natural depressions and eventually cuts through to the layer below.

Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah is a good place to view natural bridges.

Cave erosion

Natural bridges can form from natural limestone caves, where paired sinkholes collapse and a ridge of stone is left standing in between, with the cave passageway connecting from sinkhole to sinkhole.

Like all rock formations, natural bridges are subject to continued erosion, and will eventually collapse and disappear. One example of this was the double-arched Victorian coastal rock formation, London Bridge, which lost an arch after storms increased erosion [1].

Arches as highways

In a few places in the world, natural arches are truly natural bridges because there are roads running across them. Two such arches are found in Kentucky. One, a cave erosion arch made of limestone, is located in Carter Caves State Park, and it has a paved road on top. Another, a weather-eroded sandstone arch with a dirt road on top, is located on the edge of Natural Bridge State Resort Park in Kentucky. It is called White's Branch Arch (also known as the Narrows), and the road going over it is usually referred to as the Narrows Road.


See also


  1. ^ Natural Arch and Bridge Society, FAQ.
  2. ^ American Geological Institute, Dictionary of Geological Terms, 1976, Doubleday Anchor
  3. ^ Offbeat Tracks in Maharashtra - A Travel Guide - Book by Milind Gunaji ISBN: 81-7154-669-2

External links



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