The falls are formed as the full width of the river plummets in a single vertical drop into a transverse chasm 1708 metres (5604 ft) wide, carved by its waters along a fracture zone in the basalt plateau.
The depth of the chasm, called the First Gorge, varies from 80 metres (260 ft) at its western end to 108 metres (354 ft) in the centre.
The World Heritage List officially recognizes both names.
resulting in the world's largest sheet of falling water.
North-south oriented joints control the south flowing sections of the river.
The entire volume of the Zambezi River pours through the First Gorge's 110-metre-wide (360 ft) exit for a distance of about 150 metres (500 ft), then enters a zigzagging series of gorges designated by the order in which the river reaches them.
Water entering the Second Gorge makes a sharp right turn and has carved out a deep pool there called the Boiling Pot.
The main streams are named, in order from Zimbabwe (west) to Zambia (east): Devil's Cataract (called Leaping Water by some), Main Falls, Rainbow Falls (the highest) and the Eastern Cataract.
The Zambezi river, upstream from the falls, experiences a rainy season from late November to early April, and a dry season the rest of the year.
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During the flood season, however, it is impossible to see the foot of the falls and most of its face, and the walks along the cliff opposite it are in a constant shower and shrouded in mist.