A Bayesian Hierarchical Modeling Scheme for Estimating Erosion Rates Under Current Climate Conditions

Friday, 19 December 2014
Lauren Lowman and Ana Paula Barros, Duke University, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Durham, NC, United States
Computational modeling of surface erosion processes is inherently difficult because of the four-dimensional nature of the problem and the multiple temporal and spatial scales that govern individual mechanisms. Landscapes are modified via surface and fluvial erosion and exhumation, each of which takes place over a range of time scales. Traditional field measurements of erosion/exhumation rates are scale dependent, often valid for a single point-wise location or averaging over large aerial extents and periods with intense and mild erosion. We present a method of remotely estimating erosion rates using a Bayesian hierarchical model based upon the stream power erosion law (SPEL). A Bayesian approach allows for estimating erosion rates using the deterministic relationship given by the SPEL and data on channel slopes and precipitation at the basin and sub-basin scale. The spatial scale associated with this framework is the elevation class, where each class is characterized by distinct morphologic behavior observed through different modes in the distribution of basin outlet elevations. Interestingly, the distributions of first-order outlets are similar in shape and extent to the distribution of precipitation events (i.e. individual storms) over a 14-year period between 1998-2011.

We demonstrate an application of the Bayesian hierarchical modeling framework for five basins and one intermontane basin located in the central Andes between 5S and 20S. Using remotely sensed data of current annual precipitation rates from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) and topography from a high resolution (3 arc-seconds) digital elevation map (DEM), our erosion rate estimates are consistent with decadal-scale estimates based on landslide mapping and sediment flux observations and 1–2 orders of magnitude larger than most millennial and million year timescale estimates from thermochronology and cosmogenic nuclides.