Topographic signatures and a general transport law for deep-seated landslides in a landscape evolution model

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Abstract

[1] A fundamental goal of studying earth surface processes is to disentangle the complex web of interactions among baselevel, tectonics, climate, and rock properties that generate characteristic landforms. Mechanistic geomorphic transport laws can quantitatively address this goal, but no widely accepted law for landslides exists. Here we propose a transport law for deep-seated landslides in weathered bedrock and demonstrate its utility using a two-dimensional numerical landscape evolution model informed by study areas in the Waipaoa catchment, New Zealand, and the Eel River catchment, California. We define a non-dimensional landslide number, which is the ratio of the horizontal landslide flux to the vertical tectonic flux, that characterizes three distinct landscape types. One is dominated by stochastic landsliding, whereby discrete landslide events episodically erode material at rates exceeding the long-term uplift rate. Another is characterized by steady landsliding, in which the landslide flux at any location remains constant through time and is greatest at the steepest locations in the catchment. The third is not significantly affected by landsliding. In both the “stochastic landsliding” and “steady landsliding” regimes, increases in the non-dimensional landslide number systematically reduce catchment relief and widen valley spacing, producing long, low angle hillslopes despite high uplift rates. The stochastic landsliding regime captures the frequent observation that deep-seated landslides produce large sediment fluxes from small areal extents while being active only a fraction of the time. We suggest that this model is adaptable to a wide range of geologic settings and is useful for interpreting climate-driven changes in landslide behavior.

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