Characterising the origin, nature and fate of sediment exported from catchments perturbed by active tectonics

Alexander C. Whittaker, M. Attal, P.A. Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Changes to the tectonic boundary conditions governing erosional dynamics in upland catchments have a significant effect on the nature and magnitude of sediment supply to neighbouring basins. While these links have been explored in detail by numerical models of landscape evolution, there has been relatively little work to quantify the timing, characteristics and locus of sediment release from upland catchments in response to changing tectonic boundary conditions that are well-constrained independently. We address this challenge by quantifying the volume and granulometric characteristics of sediment exported from modern rivers draining across active normal faults in the Central Apennines in Italy. We demonstrate that catchments undergoing a transient response to tectonics are associated with significant volumetric export of material derived primarily from the zone upstream of the fault, producing bi-modal grain-size distributions with elevated D values within the transient reach. This is in direct contrast to the headwaters, where the fluvial capacity to transport sediment is low and the grain-size distribution of material in transit is fine and uni-modal. The grain-size response is driven by landslides feeding coarse material directly into the channel, and we show the amplitude of the signal is modulated by the degree of tectonic perturbation, once the threshold for bedrock landsliding is exceeded. Additionally, we evaluate the length-scale over which this transient grain-size signal propagates downstream into the basin. We show that the coarse-fraction sediment released is retained in the proximal hanging-wall if rates of tectonic subsidence are high and if the axial river system is small or far from the fault-bounded mountain front. Our results therefore provide some of the first quantitative data to evaluate how transient landscape responses affect the locus, magnitude and calibre of sediment supply to basins.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)809-828
Number of pages20
JournalBasin Research
Issue number6
Early online date25 Nov 2009
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010


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