The Hills are Alive: Dynamic Ridges and Valleys in a Strike-Slip Environment

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Alison R Duvall, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, United States and Gregory E Tucker, Univ Colorado, Boulder, CO, United States
Strike-slip fault zones have long been known for characteristic landforms such as offset and deflected rivers, linear strike-parallel valleys, and shutter ridges. Despite their common presence, questions remain about the mechanics of how these landforms arise or how their form varies as a function of slip rate, geomorphic process, or material properties. We know even less about what happens far from the fault, in drainage basin headwaters, as a result of strike-slip motion. Here we explore the effects of horizontal fault slip rate, bedrock erodibility, and hillslope diffusivity on river catchments that drain across an active strike-slip fault using the CHILD landscape evolution model. Model calculations demonstrate that lateral fault motion induces a permanent state of landscape disequilibrium brought about by fault offset-generated river lengthening alternating with abrupt shortening due to stream capture. This cycle of shifting drainage patterns and base level change continues until fault motion ceases thus creating a perpetual state of transience unique to strike-slip systems. Our models also make the surprising prediction that, in some cases, hillslope ridges oriented perpendicular to the fault migrate laterally in conjunction with fault motion. Ridge migration happens when slip rate is slow enough and/or diffusion and river incision are fast enough that the hillslopes can respond to the disequilibrium brought about by strike-slip motion. In models with faster slip rates, stronger rocks or less-diffusive hillslopes, ridge mobility is limited or arrested despite the fact that the process of river lengthening and capture continues. Fast-slip cases also develop prominent steep fault-facing hillslope facets proximal to the fault valley and along-strike topographic profiles with reduced local relief between ridges and valleys. Our results demonstrate the dynamic nature of strike-slip landscapes that vary systematically with a ratio of bedrock erodibility (K) and hillslope diffusivity (D) to the rate of horizontal advection of topography (v). These results also reveal a potential set of recognizable geomorphic signatures within strike-slip systems that should be looked to as indicators of fault activity and/or material properties.