Impact of change in erosion rate and landscape steepness on hillslope and fluvial sediments grain size in the Feather River basin (Sierra Nevada, California)

Attal, M., Mudd, S.M., Hurst, M.D. , Weinman, B., Yoo, K. and Naylor, M. (2015) Impact of change in erosion rate and landscape steepness on hillslope and fluvial sediments grain size in the Feather River basin (Sierra Nevada, California). Earth Surface Dynamics, 3(1), pp. 201-222. (doi: 10.5194/esurf-3-201-2015)

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The characteristics of the sediment transported by rivers (e.g. sediment flux, grain size distribution – GSD) dictate whether rivers aggrade or erode their substrate. They also condition the architecture and properties of sedimentary successions in basins. In this study, we investigate the relationship between landscape steepness and the grain size of hillslope and fluvial sediments. The study area is located within the Feather River basin in northern California, and studied basins are underlain exclusively by tonalite lithology. Erosion rates in the study area vary over an order of magnitude, from > 250 mm ka<sub>−1</sub> in the Feather River canyon to < 15 mm ka<sub>−1</sub> on an adjacent low-relief plateau. We find that the coarseness of hillslope sediment increases with increasing hillslope steepness and erosion rates. We hypothesise that, in our soil samples, the measured 10-fold increase in D<sub>50</sub> and doubling of the amount of fragments larger than 1 mm when slope increases from 0.38 to 0.83 m m<sub>−1</sub> is due to a decrease in the residence time of rock fragments, causing particles to be exposed for shorter periods of time to processes that can reduce grain size. For slopes in excess of 0.7 m m<sub>−1</sub> , landslides and scree cones supply much coarser sediment to rivers, with D<sub>50</sub> and D<sub>84</sub> more than one order of magnitude larger than in soils. In the tributary basins of the Feather River, a prominent break in slope developed in response to the rapid incision of the Feather River. Downstream of the break in slope, fluvial sediment grain size increases, due to an increase in flow competence (mostly driven by channel steepening) as well as a change in sediment source and in sediment dynamics: on the plateau upstream of the break in slope, rivers transport easily mobilised fine-grained sediment derived exclusively from soils. Downstream of the break in slope, mass wasting processes supply a wide range of grain sizes that rivers entrain selectively, depending on the competence of their flow. Our results also suggest that, in this study site, hillslopes respond rapidly to an increase in the rate of base-level lowering compared to rivers.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:This work was funded by the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland (grant awarded to M. Attal), the US National Science Foundation (grant EAR0819064 awarded to K. Yoo and S. Mudd) and the UK Natural Environment Research Council (grant NE/H001174/1 awarded to S. Mudd).
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Hurst, Dr Martin
Authors: Attal, M., Mudd, S.M., Hurst, M.D., Weinman, B., Yoo, K., and Naylor, M.
Subjects:G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > G Geography (General)
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GB Physical geography
Q Science > QE Geology
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > School of Geographical and Earth Sciences
Journal Name:Earth Surface Dynamics
Publisher:European Geosciences Union
ISSN (Online):2196-632X
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2015 The Authors
First Published:First published in Earth Surface Dynamics 3(1): 201-222
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

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