Soil Production and Erosion on a Low-Relief, Soil-Mantled Landscape in the Pinaleno Mountains, Arizona

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Marina Foster, Kelin X Whipple, Arjun M Heimsath and Matthew Jungers, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, United States
Soil thickness plays an essential role in hydrology, ecology, biogeochemistry, and erosion and transport processes at the Earth’s surface. Controls on soil production rate set this important characteristic, however, relative roles of these controls have not been quantitatively assessed. I take advantage of uniform lithology and climate on anenigmatic perched, low-relief high elevation landscape in the Pinaleno Mountains in southeastern Arizona to examine controls of formation and preservation of the upper, low-relief soil mantled landscape. This landscape is sharply bounded on all sides by steep, rugged terrain where soil cover is patchy but pervasive. Knickpoints appear along channel profiles around the edges of the low-relief landscape, suggesting a transient response to some tectonic disturbance, either due to rock uplift and basin subsidence during Basin and Range tectonic forcing, or more recent base-level drop in adjacent drainage systems. Slow erosion rates recently measured along the flanks of this range support the hypothesis that this upper transient surface has been preserved after a late Miocene-Pliocene basin and range disturbance that has since been followed by slow topographic decay.

To shed light on the processes driving weathering, soil production and erosion in this landscape that maintains steep, rocky catchments only below knickpoints on channels draining the upper low-relief landscape, we utilize high-resolution soil thickness measurements coupled with terrestrial cosmogenic nuclide soil production rate measurements. In order to determine soil thicknesses at the high-resolution scale useful to describe hillslope process, we utilize shallow seismic survey data, calibrated by soil pit measurements of soil down through saprolite and fractured bedrock. Broadly applicable, these high-resolution soil thickness measurements coupled with soil production and erosion rate data can be useful disentangle relationships among catchment-mean erosion rate, mean soil thickness, and soil production efficiency.