Influence of lithology on hillslope morphology and response to tectonic forcing in the northern Sierra Nevada of California

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Abstract

[1] Many geomorphic studies assume that bedrock geology is not a first-order control on landscape form in order to isolate drivers of geomorphic change (e.g., climate or tectonics). Yet underlying geology may influence the efficacy of soil production and sediment transport on hillslopes. We performed quantitative analysis of LiDAR digital terrain models to examine the topographic form of hillslopes in two distinct lithologies in the Feather River catchment in northern California, a granodiorite pluton and metamorphosed volcanics. The two sites, separated by <2 km and spanning similar elevations, were assumed to have similar climatic histories and are experiencing a transience in landscape evolution characterized by a propagating incision wave in response to accelerated surface uplift c. 5 Ma. Responding to increased incision rates, hillslopes in granodiorite tend to have morphology similar to model predictions for steady state hillslopes, suggesting that they adjust rapidly to keep pace with the incision wave. By contrast, hillslopes in metavolcanics exhibit high gradients but lower hilltop curvature indicative of ongoing transient adjustment to incision. We used existing erosion rate data and the curvature of hilltops proximal to the main channels (where hillslopes have most likely adjusted to accelerated erosion rates) to demonstrate that the sediment transport coefficient is higher in granodiorite (8.8 m2 ka−1) than in metavolcanics (4.8 m2 ka−1). Hillslopes in both lithologies get shorter (i.e., drainage density increases) with increasing erosion rates.

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