Chilly Hilly – coupling models of landscape evolution and subsurface thermal processes

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 10:50 AM
Katherine R Barnhart, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, CO, United States and Robert S Anderson, INSTAAR and Department of Geological Sciences, Boulder, CO, United States
Many hillslope processes - physical, chemical, and biological - depend on subsurface temperature and water availability. As the subsurface temperature field varies both in space and through climate cycles, the dominant processes of mobile regolith production and transport and the rate at which they act will vary. These processes include the chemical weathering of minerals, cracking of rocks through frost action and tree roots, presence and impact of vegetation on soil cohesion, location and activity of burrowing and trampling animals, frost creep, and solifluction. In order to explore the interplay between these processes across a landscape and over geologic time, we develop a pseudo-three-dimensional subsurface thermal model within the Landlab landscape evolution modeling framework, driven by an associated spatially explicit radiative surface boundary condition.

We begin with the analytical solution for conduction in a medium with uniform thermal properties and progress to a numerical model that acknowledges variable material properties, water content, and phase change. At the surface we incorporate spatial and temporal variations in incoming short-wave radiation due to elevation, latitude, aspect, shading and orbital variations. Outgoing long-wave radiation is taken to depend on the surface temperature and may be modified by allowing back-radiation from the atmosphere.

With these tools we target variations in regolith production and motion over the long timescales on which hillslopes evolve. We implement a basic parameterization of temperature-dependent chemical and physical weathering linked to mobile regolith generation. We incorporate multiple regolith transport processes including heave, creep, solifluction, tree throw, and animal burrowing. We incorporate material tracking to trace the chemical evolution of regolith as it moves downslope. Our intention is not to parameterize all operative processes, but to include sufficient detail to identify how the different processes interact. We address questions that include: What governs contrasts in process rate on pole-ward vs. equator-ward slopes? Under what conditions should we expect temporal transitions between transport-limited and weathering-limited erosion? How does the legacy of past climate impact later hillslope activity?