What Is a Gradient in Earth Science?

The gradient is the slope of a linear equation, represented in the simplest form as y = mx + b. In Earth Science, the gradient is usually used to measure how steep certain changes in elevation are.

In order to find the gradient in a topographical setting, one must know two things: the elevation of two points and the distance between the two points. Once these values are known, the gradient can be found by dividing the change in field value, or the change in elevation, by the distance. The higher the gradient value is, the steeper the slope is.