A model for the geomorphic development of normal-fault facets
Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 11:50 AM
Triangular facets are among the most striking landforms associated with normal faulting. The genesis of facets is of great interest both for the information facets contain about tectonic motion, and because the progressive emergence of facets makes them potential recorders of both geomorphic and tectonic history. In this report, we present observations of triangular facets in the western United States and in the Italian Central Apennines. Facets in these regions typically form quasi-planar surfaces that are aligned in series along and above the trace of an active fault. Some facet surfaces consist mainly of exposed bedrock, with a thin and highly discontinuous cover of loose regolith. Other facets are mantled by a several-decimeter-thick regolith cover. Over the course of its morphologic development, a facet slope segment may evolve from a steep (~60 degree) bedrock fault scarp, well above the angle of repose for soil, to a gentler (~20-40 degree) slope that can potentially sustain a coherent regolith cover. This evolutionary trajectory across the angle of repose renders nonlinear diffusion theory inapplicable. To formulate an alternative process-based theory for facet evolution, we use a particle-based approach that acknowledges the possibility for both short- and long-range sediment-grain motions, depending on the topography. The processes of rock weathering, grain entrainment, and grain motion are represented as stochastic state-pair transitions with specified transition rates. The model predicts that facet behavior can range smoothly along the spectrum from a weathering-limited mode to a transport-limited mode, depending on the ratio of fault-slip rate to bare-bedrock regolith production rate. The model also implies that facets formed along a fault with pinned tips should show systematic variation in slope angle that correlates with along-fault position and slip rate. Preliminary observations from central Italy and the eastern Basin and Range are consistent with this prediction.