The crucial role of stone pavements in arid environments for aeolian or alluvial processes and as numerical dating tools is increasingly acknowledged. This role is based on the assumption that stone pavements are stable landforms, formed gradually over time and predominantly by vertical processes. However, this is challenged by evidence of stone-pavement clast reworking or burial. Bimodal, mostly slope aspect-symmetrical clast orientation is a frequent phenomenon in various study areas. It implies that stone pavements may be influenced by unidirectional lateral processes besides vertical ones.
Here, the finding of lateral processes contributing to stone-pavement evolution is supported by numerical modelling and physical experiments. These unequivocally show that unconcentrated overland flow can transport clasts to form a closely packed stone mosaic with characteristics similar to those of natural stone pavements. The commonly observed length-axes orientation angle of 40 ± 14° for natural stone-pavement clasts is consistently reproduced by angle-dependent force equilibrium. Monte Carlo runs confirm the natural scatter and allow characterization of the control parameters of clast orientation. The model explains up to 70% of the natural variance. It is further validated by flume experiments, which confirm model predictions of single object orientation angles. Experiments with multiple objects yield artificial stone pavements with properties similar to those found in the field.
The unidirectional lateral process acting on natural stone pavements requires the presence of a vesicular horizon. This underlines the tight genetic coupling of this common epipedon feature and the clast cover. The presented findings highlight the role of stone pavements as process and environment proxies. However, stone pavements represent information since the last surface disturbance only. This has to be considered when using them as age indicators. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.