Several studies describe the formation and importance of shallow ephemeral gullies under cropland (depth < 0.8 in). Some of these gullies may develop into channels with a depth of more than 0.8 in (up to 4 in). Despite their spectacular nature, these deep gullies have not yet been studied in detail. Therefore, the objectives of this study are to analyze the characteristics and the controlling factors of these deep gullies, as well as their importance in terms of sediment production. Comparison of a dataset with 28 deep gullies, formed in the period 1985-2003 and 123 shallow ephemeral gullies formed in the period 1994-1999 in central Belgium indicates that the deep gullies have clearly different morphological characteristics compared to shallow ephemeral gullies. Several factors were analyzed to understand the formation of deep gullies. Plotting runoff contributing area versus slope of the soil surface at the gully head indicates that the topographical threshold for deep gully formation is significantly larger compared to ephemeral gully formation. Deep gullies form on short, steep valley sides and their position is strongly affected by the presence of linear landscape elements. All deep gullies incised on landscape positions with a very erodible soil horizon at shallow depth. Analysis of causative rainfall showed no significant differences in incision thresholds between rills and shallow ephemeral gullies on the one hand and deep gullies on the other hand. The relation between area-specific sediment yield in central Belgium and drainage area, indicates that the development of deep gullies contributes significantly to the sediment output of small rural catchments and causes peaks in the mean area-specific sediment yield that are up to a factor of three higher compared with catchments where shallow ephemeral gullying occurs. (c) 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.