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The sediment flux from a mountainous catchment can be expressed as a function of a landslide rate constant κ which accounts for the vigour of hillslope erosion. Since the incising drainage network flushes all or a portion of the products of hillslope erosion to a range front where fan deposition takes place, a conservation of solid sediment volume allows the fan area and progradation distance to be calculated. These parameters are related primarily to the discharge of sediment from the catchment and to local tectonic subsidence.

A survey of modern alluvial fans in a wide range of climatic and tectonic settings shows that the effects of climate and bedrock lithology cannot be discriminated in the scatter of data of catchment area vs. fan area. However, by focusing on over 100 fans in the arid and semiarid zone of SW USA, the impact of tectonic subsidence rate is unambiguous. Although further quantitative data on local tectonic subsidence rates are urgently required, our preliminary analysis suggests considerable potential for reconstructing palaeocatchments where basin tectonic subsidence rates can be estimated. The progradation distances of fans from the northern and southern margins of the Middle Devonian Hornelen Basin of Norway, and the western and north-eastern margins of the Mio-Pliocene Ridge Basin, California, allow catchment sizes and denudation rates to be approximated. Although unique solution sets are not possible, an iteration of parameter values allows plausible parameter combinations to be calculated which shed light on the tectonic and sedimentary history of the proximal basin and upland source regions. Model results suggest significant asymmetry in basin subsidence rates, catchment slopes and transport mechanics between the two margins.