Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface

Predictions of steady state and transient landscape morphology using sediment-flux-dependent river incision models

Authors

  • N. M. Gasparini,

    1. Department of Geology and Geophysics, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA
    2. Now at School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA.
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  • K. X. Whipple,

    1. Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
    2. Now at School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA.
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  • R. L. Bras

    1. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
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Abstract

[1] Recent experimental and theoretical studies support the notion that bed load in mountain rivers can both enhance incision rates through wear and inhibit incision rates by covering the bed. These effects may play an important role in landscape evolution and, in particular, the response of river channels to tectonic or climatic perturbation. We use the channel-hillslope integrated landscape development (CHILD) numerical model with two different bedrock incision models that include the dual role of the sediment flux to explore the transient behavior of fluvial landscapes. Both models predict that steady state channel slopes increase in landscapes with higher rock uplift rates. However, the incision models predict different transient responses to an increase in uplift rate, and the behavior of each incision model depends on both the magnitude of change in uplift rate and the local drainage area. In some cases, the transient channel behavior is indistinguishable from that predicted for transport-limited alluvial rivers. In other cases, knickpoints form in some or all of the drainage network, as predicted by the detachment-limited stream power model. In all cases the response in the lower parts of the network is highly dependent on the response in the upper parts of the network as well as the hillslopes. As the upper parts of the network send more sediment downstream, channel incision rates may rise or fall, and slopes in the lower parts of the channel may, in fact, decrease at times during the transient adjustment to an increase in rock uplift rate. In some cases, channel incision in the upper parts of the network ceases during the transient while the hillslopes adjust to the new uplift rate; drainage density may also change as a function of uplift rate. Our results suggest that if the sediment flux strongly controls bedrock incision rates, then (1) the transient fluvial response will take longer than predicted by the detachment-limited stream power model, (2) changes in channel slope may be much more complex than predicted by the detachment-limited stream power model, and (3) changes in the fluvial system will be closely tied to sediment delivery from the hillslopes. Importantly, our results outline quantitative differences in system behavior produced by competing models and provide a framework for identifying locations in natural systems where differences in channel morphology can be used to discern between competing fluvial erosion models.

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