Bedrock and Sediment Controls on Rapidly Eroding Fluvial Landscapes

"The recognition that Earth’s surface topography evolves over time provides a basis for reconstructing past tectonic or climatic processes, as well as the formation of sedimentary sequences." - Willett et al. (2014)

Orogenic landscape is graphically modulated by the bedrock-channel incision in response to dynamic tectonic activities. The stream-power incision model has successfully predicted rates and patterns of bedrock-channel incision in active mountain ranges with homogeneous rock type. However, contrasts in bedrock strength are common in orogenic settings yet the effect of bedrock lithology on the evolution of fluvial landscapes remains poorly understood. Is the landscape governed by coarse bedload derived from rigid bedrock that increase the downstream abrasion (Finnegan et al., 2017)? Or it is a state of temporary equilibrium controlled by the geometric structure of underlying lithology with diverse resistances against the incision (Forte et al., 2016)? Does the spatially variable uplift matter in this setting?

Example from Santa Cruz mountains, CA, USA that shows the input of coarse sediment "tools" from resistant bedrock in upstream area manipulating the channel slope in downstream (Finnegan et al., 2017)

Model prediction of channel profile morphology with different geometry of substrate (Forte et al., 2016)

The Coastal Range in eastern Taiwan orogen is a young (<1 Ma) active mountain range characterized by local upland areas of relict terrain (high-elevation, low-relief surfaces covered by lateritic soils) surrounded by deeply incised river catchments with rapidly uplifted (~2-17 mm/yr) resistant volcanic basement and weak sedimentary rocks. Annual precipitation is ~1.8-2.5 m, distributed uniformly throughout the range, suggesting negligible climate control on variations in river channel morphology. It provides an excellent natural laboratory to explore the interplay between bedrock variability, uplift pattern, and fluvial processes. Yet the susceptibility, timing, and pace of landscape adjustments in response to these factors have not been clearly assessed. To address these questions, This study will conduct an integrated field-based and numerical analysis of the Coastal Range, including:

The results of this research are expected to document the bedrock controls on river channel morphology, which will improve our understanding of fluvial processes that govern landscape evolution in active orogens.

Large resistant boulders (volcanic breccia, tuffaceous sandstone) sitting on steep and deeply carved channel with weak mudstone substrate, where is just above a water fall (knickpoint). Photo took in Changpin by Mr. Chien-Hao Wang.

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[Last update: Dec 10, 2022]