Cavernous weathering, dynamical instability and self-organization



Cavernous weathering may be conceptualized as a self-reinforcing process, characterized by positive feedback within the weathering system. A morphometric study of caverns in the Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, USA, demonstrates the applicability of a dynamically unstable, or conditionally unstable, model of cavernous weathering systems. Outcrop surfaces displaying caverns tend to show increasing fragmentation of the surface in the early stages of cavernous weathering, succeeded by convergent evolution of the surface in which caverns tend to grow and coalesce. A paradoxical relationship exists between the weathering system output at the scale of individual forms and the outcrop scale: caverns tend toward minimum interior surface area by developing a spheroidal form, yet the outcrop surface tends toward maximum exposed surface area by increasing the degree of fragmentation of the surface. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.