The effects of rock uplift and rock resistance on river morphology in a subduction zone forearc, Oregon, USA

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Abstract

Relationships between riverbed morphology, concavity, rock type and rock uplift rate are examined to independently unravel the contribution of along-strike variations in lithology and rates of vertical deformation to the topographic relief of the Oregon coastal mountains. Lithologic control on river profile form is reflected by convexities and knickpoints in a number of longitudinal profiles and by general trends of concavity as a function of lithology. Volcanic and sedimentary rocks are the principal rock types underlying the northern Oregon Coast Ranges (between 46°30′ and 45°N) where mixed bedrock–alluvial channels dominate. Average concavity, θ, is 0·57 in this region. In the alluviated central Oregon Coast Ranges (between 45° and 44°N) values of concavity are, on average, the highest (θ = 0·82). South of 44°N, however, bedrock channels are common and θ = 0·73. Mixed bedrock–alluvial channels characterize rivers in the Klamath Mountains (from 43°N south; θ = 0·64). Rock uplift rates of ≥0·5 mm a−1, mixed bedrock–alluvial channels, and concavities of 0·53–0·70 occur within the northernmost Coast Ranges and Klamath Mountains. For rivers flowing over volcanic rocks θ = 0·53, and θ = 0·72 for reaches crossing sedimentary rocks. Whereas channel type and concavity generally co-vary with lithology along much of the range, rivers between 44·5° and 43°N do not follow these trends. Concavities are generally greater than 0·70, alluvial channels are common, and river profiles lack knickpoints between 44·5° and 44°N, despite the fact that lithology is arguably invariant. Moreover, rock uplift rates in this region vary from low, ≤0·5 mm a−1, to subsidence (<0 mm a−1). These observations are consistent with models of transient river response to a decrease in uplift rate. Conversely, the rivers between 44° and 43°N have similar concavities and flow on the same mapped bedrock unit as the central region, but have bedrock channels and irregular longitudinal profiles, suggesting the river profiles reflect a transient response to an increase in uplift rate. If changes in rock uplift rate explain the differences in river profile form and morphology, it is unlikely that rock uplift and erosion are in steady state in the Oregon coastal mountains. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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