Erosion of the Rwenzori Mountains, East African Rift, from in situ-produced cosmogenic10Be

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Abstract

[1] High relief and steep topography are thought to result in high erosion rates. In the Rwenzori Mountains of the Albert Rift, East Africa, where more than 3 km of relief have formed during uplift of the Rwenzori fault block, overall low denudation rates prevail. We measured in situ-derived cosmogenic denudation rates of 28.2 to 131 mm/kyr in mountainous catchments, and rates of 7.8 to 17.7 mm/kyr on the adjacent low-relief East African Plateau. These rates are roughly an order of magnitude lower than in other settings of similar relief. We present an extensive geomorphological analysis, and find that denudation rates are positively correlated with relief, hillslope gradient, and channel steepness, indicating that river incision controls erosional processes. In most upper headwater reaches above Quaternary ELA levels (>4500 m a.s.l.), glacial imprinting, inherited from several older and recent minor glaciation stages, prevails. In regions below 4500 m a.s.l., however, mild climatic conditions impede frost shattering, favor dense vegetation, and minimize bare rock areas and associated mass wasting. We conclude that erosion of the Rwenzori Mountains is significantly slower than corresponding rates in other mountains of high relief, due to a combination of factors: extremely dense mountain cloud forest vegetation, high rock strength of gneiss and amphibolite lithologies, and low internal fracturing due to the extensional tectonic setting. This specific combination, unique to this extensional tropical setting, leads to unexpected low erosion rates that cannot outpace post-Pliocene ongoing rock uplift of the Rwenzori fault block.

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