delta [from triangular shape of the Nile delta, like the Greek letter delta ], a deposit of clay, silt, and sand formed at the mouth of a river where the stream loses velocity and drops part of its sediment load. No delta is formed if the coast is sinking or if there is an ocean or tidal current strong enough to prevent sediment deposition. Coarse particles settle first, with fine clays last and found at the outer regions of the delta. The three main varieties of deltas are the arcuate (the Nile), the bird's-foot (the Mississippi), and the cuspate (the Tiber). The Nile, Mississippi, Niger, Rhine, Danube, Kuban, Volga, Amu Darya, Indus, Ganges-Brahmaputra, Ayeyarwady, Tigris and Euphrates, and Huang He (Yellow) rivers are among those that have formed large deltas, many of which are fertile lands that support dense agricultural populations.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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