Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface

Transient landscapes at fault tips

Authors


Abstract

[1] Fault growth produces patterns of displacement and slip rate that are highly variable in both space and time. This transience is most pronounced near fault tips, where along-strike displacement gradients vary in time as the fault array lengthens. We use a set of statistical and field observations to quantify the response of catchments and their associated fans in three large normal fault arrays to transient patterns of displacement and slip rate. Catchments near the fault tips show distinct scaling of channel slope with drainage area compared with catchments near the strike center. This scaling becomes uniform beyond about ∼10 km from the fault tips and is therefore like footwall relief, largely decoupled from the fault displacement profile. The estimated catchment response times to a change in slip rate also vary between fault tips and strike center. The response times for tip catchments are much longer than the inferred time since fault activity began, indicating that they are unlikely to be in equilibrium with the current fault displacement field. This disequilibrium, combined with the decoupling of slope-area scaling from displacement, indicates that landscapes are most sensitive to fault activity near fault tips. Active faults characterized by along-strike variation in slip rate thus provide excellent opportunities to explore the transient response of landscapes to tectonic forcing.

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