The Occurrence of Knickpoints in Soluble Strata in the Buffalo River Basin, Arkansas

Friday, 19 December 2014
Evan Thaler, Matthew D Covington, Joseph M Myre, Matija Perne and Ginny Holcomb, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR, United States
Prior field and theoretical work has suggested that bedrock channels adjust to lower stream power when encountering highly soluble strata, exhibiting an increase in channel width and/or a decrease in channel slope. However, in apparent contradiction to this expectation, many channels within the Buffalo River Basin, Arkansas, contain knickpoints, in the form of waterfalls and slot canyons, that are developed at the contact between the Mississippian Batesville Sandstone and the underlying Boone Limestone. To improve understanding of bedrock channel response to contrasts in rock solubility, longitudinal surveys were conducted in three channels that cross the Boone Limestone. Additionally, channel widths and a profile were obtained for the main stem of the Buffalo River using aerial photography and a digital elevation model. Schmidt scores for the Boone and Batesville suggest that the two strata have similar compressive strengths, which is a measure of relative resistance to mechanical erosion. Two of the four studied reaches show significant knickpoint development, and in both cases the basin area above the knickpoint is less than 3 km2. One possible explanation is that these knickpoints have been arrested at a critical threshold basin area. However, at least four other such knickpoints are known from the area, and in all cases the knickpoint is highly correlated to the contact rather than a specific basin area, suggesting that the properties of the strata are an important factor. We identify three potential mechanisms that may often act in concert to develop knickpoints at contacts with underlying soluble rocks. (1) If chemical erosion in the soluble reach outpaces uplift, and knickpoint retreat through the overlying layer is sufficiently slow, then a knickpoint will develop. (2) Karstification can divert geomorphic work to the subsurface, resulting in a steep surface channel and possible stalling of upstream knickpoint migration within the soluble strata. (3) The formation and collapse of caves may generate steep, narrow canyons. Within larger basins, increases in erosive capacity and sediment supply, and reduction of slope, would act to reduce the importance these mechanisms.