Erosion rates in and around Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, determined using analysis of cosmogenic 10Be

Duxbury, J., Bierman, P. R., Portenga, E. W., Pavich, M. J., Southworth, S. and Freeman, S. P.H.T. (2015) Erosion rates in and around Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, determined using analysis of cosmogenic 10Be. American Journal of Science, 315(1), pp. 46-76. (doi:10.2475/01.2015.02)

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We use cosmogenic 10Be analysis of fluvial sediments and bedrock to estimate erosion rates (104-105 year timescale) and to infer the distribution of post-orogenic geomorphic processes in the Blue Ridge Province in and around Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. Our sampling plan was designed to investigate relationships between erosion rate and lithology, mean basin slope, basin area, and sediment grain size. Fifty-nine samples were collected from a variety of basin sizes (<1-3305 km2) and average basin slopes (6-24°) in each of four different lithologies that crop out in the park: granite, metabasalt, quartzite, and siliciclastic rocks. The samples include bedrock (n = 5), fluvial sediment from single-lithology basins (n = 43), and fluvial sediment from multilithology basins (n = 11): two multilithology samples are from rivers with tributary streams draining the eastern and western slopes of the park, respectively (Rappahannock and Shenandoah Rivers), and two samples are temporal replicates. In one sample of each lithology, we measured 10Be in four different grain sizes from fine sand to gravel. Inferred erosion rates for the medium sand fraction of all fluvial samples from all lithologies range from 3.0 to 21 m/My. The area-weighted mean erosion rate for single-lithology basins in the Park is 12.2 m/My. Single-lithology erosion rate ranges for fluvial samples are: granite, 7.0 to 20 m/My; metabasalt, 3.8 to 21 m/My; quartzite, 3.8 to 15 m/My; and siliciclastic rocks, 5.2 to 15 m/My. Multilithology basins erode at rates between 3.0-16 m/My. The Shenandoah River basin (3305 km2) is eroding at 6.6 m/My. Bedrock erosion rates range from 1.8 to 11 m/My across all lithologies, with a mean of 6.5 ± 4.3 m/My. Grain-size specific 10Be analysis of four samples showed no consistent trend of concentration with grain size. Cosmogenic analysis of bedrock and sediment from the Shenandoah National Park area allows us to speculate about why some parts of the Appalachian Mountains erode more slowly and some more rapidly. Overall, it appears that steep drainage basins erode more rapidly than gently sloped basins. Climate and lithology may also influence basin-scale rates of erosion as suggested by the difference in average erosion rates east and west of the divide and the difference between the erosion rates of quartzite- and granite-dominated basins. Data are conflicting in regards to the evolution of relief over time. Analyses made of exposed bedrock along ridgelines suggest that such rock is eroding either more slowly than adjacent drainage basins (Susquehanna River, Shenandoah National Park region) or at similar rates (Great Smoky Mountains) providing a mechanism for growing relief at the scale of individual ridgelines. However, considering relief on a landscape or physiographic province scale, by comparing erosion rates of the highlands versus the lowlands, suggests that relief of the range as a whole is either steady or very slowly decreasing over multi-millennial timescales. The presence of significant erosion rate/slope relationships negates a broad Hackian view of the landscape because there is not uniform erosion across this landscape. The aspect-erosion rate and slope-erosion rate relationships present in the Shenandoah area suggest that the landscape is not fully adjusted to rock strength.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Freeman, Professor Stewart
Authors: Duxbury, J., Bierman, P. R., Portenga, E. W., Pavich, M. J., Southworth, S., and Freeman, S. P.H.T.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre
Journal Name:American Journal of Science
Publisher:American Journal of Science
ISSN (Online):1945-452X

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