Elevated Channel Concavities Arising from Sediment-Flux Effects in Natural Rivers
Abstract:The concavity of an incising river system – a measure of the rate of change of its bed slope with increasing discharge downstream – is a commonly used metric in fluvial geomorphology. It is commonly used in assessing variation of factors such as uplift, climate, and rock type along a system in a qualitative way, and underpins a number of quantitative analyses in tectonic geomorphology, such as the normalized channel steepness index. However, the factors that fundamentally control channel concavities in rocky streams remain relatively poorly understood, especially in rivers that are undergoing transient response to a perturbation in their boundary conditions.
Here we use a combination of field data and numerical modeling to demonstrate that elevated channel concavities are a common and shared response to the propagation of a convex-upward “knickzone” through a bedrock channel long profile. Simulations using the novel modeling framework Landlab exploring thresholded incision and saltation-abrasion theory indicate that the presence of the knickzone can perturb the relative sediment flux in the area immediately downstream of the convexity, allowing enhanced erosion there and systematic elevation of channel concavities in reaches downstream of this point. The reality of this effect is demonstrated using field and remotely sensed data from three sites – the Red River area, Yunnan, China; channels on the Ladakh batholith, Indian Himalaya; and the Fagaras Alps, Romania. All contain broad scale migrating knickzones, but the causes of the disturbances that produced them and scales of the systems differ. Nonetheless, the concavities of all the channels are all elevated in the same way downstream of knickzones, consistent with the modeling output. These results demonstrate the ubiquity of sediment flux effects on erosion rates in many natural channels, and have consequences for the way we read tectonic histories from landscapes.