skip to main content


The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 5:00 PM ET until 11:00 PM ET on Friday, June 21 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Title: Hydro‐geomorphic behavior of contrasting tropical landscapes and critical zone response to changing climate

The potentially important influence of climate change on landscape evolution and on critical zone processes is not sufficiently understood. The relative contribution of hydro‐climatic factors on hillslope erosion rates may significantly vary with topography at the watershed scale. The objective of this study is to quantify the hydro‐geomorphic behavior of two contrasting landscapes in response to different climate change scenarios in the Luquillo Critical Zone Observatory, a site of particular geomorphological interest, in terms of hillslope erosion and rainfall‐triggered landslides. We investigate the extent to which hillslope erosion and landslide occurrence remain relatively invariant with future hydro‐climatic perturbations. The adjacent Mameyes and Icacos watersheds are studied, which are underlain by contrasting lithologies. A high resolution coupled hydro‐geomorphic model based on tRIBS (Triangulated Irregular Network‐based Real‐time Integrated Basin Simulator) is used. Observations of landslide activity and hillslope erosion are used to evaluate the model performance. The process‐based model quantifies feedbacks among different hydrologic processes, landslide occurrence, and topsoil erosion and deposition. Simulations suggest that the propensity for landslide occurrence in the Luquillo Mountains is controlled by tropical storms, subsurface water flow, and by non‐climatic factors, and is expected to remain significant through 2099. The Icacos watershed, which is underlain by quartz diorite, is dominated by relatively large landslides. The relative frequency of smaller landslides is higher at the Mameyes watershed, which is underlain by volcaniclastic rock. While projections of precipitation decrease at the study site may lead to moderate decline in hillslope erosion rates, the simulated erosional potential of the two diverse landscapes likely remains significant. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

more » « less
Author(s) / Creator(s):
Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Earth Surface Processes and Landforms
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 641-654
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    The dynamics of soil organic carbon (SOC) in tropical forests play an important role in the global carbon (C) cycle. Past attempts to quantify the net C exchange with the atmosphere in regional and global budgets do not systematically account for dynamic feedbacks among linked hydrological, geomorphological, and biogeochemical processes, which control the fate of SOC. Here we quantify effects of geomorphic perturbations on SOC oxidation and accumulation in two adjacent wet tropical forest watersheds underlain by contrasting lithology (volcaniclastic rock and quartz diorite) in the Luquillo Critical Zone Observatory. This study uses the spatially explicit and physically based model of SOC dynamics tRIBS‐ECO (Triangulated Irregular Network‐based Real‐time Integrated Basin Simulator‐Erosion and Carbon Oxidation) and measurements of SOC profiles and oxidation rates. Our results suggest that hillslope erosion at the two watersheds may drive C sequestration or CO2release to the atmosphere, depending on the forest type and land use. The net erosion‐induced C exchange with the atmosphere was controlled by the spatial distribution of forest types. The two watersheds were characterized by significant erosion and dynamic replacement of upland SOC stocks. Results suggest that the landscape underlain by volcaniclastic rock has reached a state close to geomorphic equilibrium, and the landscape underlain by quartz diorite is characterized by greater rates of denudation. These findings highlight the importance of the spatially explicit and physical representation of C erosion driven by local variation in lithological and geomorphological characteristics and in forest cover.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Rock strength is a fundamental property of earth materials that influences the morphology of landscapes and modulates feedbacks between surface processes, tectonics, and climate. However, rock strength remains challenging to quantify over the broad spatial scales necessary for geomorphic investigations. Consequently, the factors that control rock strength in the near‐surface environment (i.e., the critical zone) remain poorly understood. Here we quantify near‐surface rock strength on a regional scale by exploiting two hillslope‐stability models, which explicitly relate the balance of forces within a hillslope to Mohr‐Coulomb strength parameters. We first use the Culmann finite‐slope stability model to back‐calculate static rock strength with high‐density measurements of ridge‐to‐channel hillslope height and gradient. Second, we invert the Newmark infinite‐slope stability model for strength using an earthquake peak ground acceleration model and coseismic landslide inventory. We apply these two model approaches to a recently inverted sedimentary basin in the eastern Topatopa Mountains of southern California, USA, where a tectonic gradient has exposed stratigraphic units with variable burial histories. Results show similar trends in strength with respect to stratigraphic position and have comparable strength estimates to the lowest values of published direct‐shear test data. Cohesion estimates are low, with Culmann results ranging from 3 to 60 kPa and Newmark results from 6 to 30 kPa, while friction angle estimates range from 24° to 44° from the Culmann model. We find that maximum burial depth exerts the strongest control on the strength of these young sedimentary rocks, likely through diagenetic changes in porosity, cementation, and ultimately, lithification.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Landslides are common natural disturbances in tropical montane forests. While the geomorphic drivers of landslides in the Andes have been studied, factors controlling post‐landslide forest recovery across the steep climatic and topographic gradients characteristic of tropical mountains are poorly understood.

    Here we use a LiDAR‐derived canopy height map coupled with a 25‐year landslide time‐series map to examine how landslide, topographic and biophysical factors, along with residual vegetation, affect canopy height and heterogeneity in regenerating landslides. We also calculate above‐ground biomass accumulation rates and estimate the time for landslides to recover to mature forest biomass levels.

    We find that age and elevation are the biggest determinants of forest recovery, and that the jump‐start in regeneration that residual vegetation provides lasts for at least 18 years. Our estimates of time to biomass recovery (31.6–37.1 years) are surprisingly rapid, and as a result we recommend that future research pair LiDAR with hyperspectral imagery to estimate forest above‐ground biomass in frequently disturbed landscapes.

    Synthesis. Using a high‐resolution LiDAR dataset and a time‐series inventory of 608 landslides distributed across a wide elevational gradient in Andean montane forest, we show that age and elevation are the most influential predictors of forest canopy height and canopy variability. Other features of landslides, in particular the presence of residual vegetation, shape post‐landslide regeneration trajectories. LiDAR allows for a detailed analysis of forest structural recovery across large landscapes and numbers of disturbances, and provides a reasonable upper bound on above‐ground biomass accumulation rates. However, because this method does not capture the effect of compositional change through succession on above‐ground biomass, wherein high‐wood density species gradually replace light‐wooded pioneer species, it overestimates above‐ground biomass. Given previously estimated stem turnover rates along this elevational gradient, we posit that above‐ground biomass recovery takes at least three times as long as our recovery time estimates based on LiDAR‐derived structure alone.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Landscape form represents the cumulative effects of de‐stabilizing events relative to recovery processes. Most geomorphic research has focused on the role of episodic rare events on landscape form with less attention paid to the role and persistence of chronic inputs. To better establish the interplay between chronic and episodic extreme events at regional scales, we used aerial photography and post‐flood sediment sampling to assess stream and hillslope response and recovery to a 100–300 yr. flood caused by Tropical Storm Irene in New England. Within a 14 000 km2study area, analysis of aerial photographs indicated that the storm initiated (n = 534) and reactivated (n = 460) a large number of landslides. These landslides dramatically increased overall estimates of regional erosion rates (from 0.0023 mm/yr. without Irene to 0.0072 mm/yr. with Irene). Similarly, Irene‐generated LWD inputs of 0.25–0.5 trees/km exceeded annual background rates in a single event, and these concentrated inputs (101–102of trees/landslide) are likely to result in large jams and snags that are particularly persistent and geomorphically effective. Finally, we found that landslide scars continue to provide elevated sediment inputs years after the event, as evidenced by sustained higher suspended sediment concentrations in streams with Irene‐generated landslides. Overall, our results indicate that infrequent, high‐magnitude events have a more important geomorphic role in tectonically stable, more moderate‐relief systems than has been previously recognized. Understanding the role of these events has particular relevance in regions such as New England, where the frequency and magnitude of extreme storms is expected to increase. Further, these effects may force reconsideration of conservation and restoration targets (for example in channel form and large wood loading and distribution) in fluvial systems. Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Debris flows pose persistent hazards and shape high‐relief landscapes in diverse physiographic settings, but predicting the spatiotemporal occurrence of debris flows in postglacial topography remains challenging. To evaluate the debris flow process in high‐relief postglacial terrain, we conducted a geomorphic investigation to characterize geologic, glacial, volcanic, and land use contributions to landslide initiation across Southeast Alaska. To evaluate controls on landslide (esp. debris flow) occurrence in Sitka, we used field observation, geomorphic mapping, landslide characteristics as documented in the Tongass National Forest inventory, and a novel application of the shallow landslide model SHALSTAB to postglacial terrain. A complex geomorphic history of glaciation and volcanic activity provides a template for spatially heterogeneous landslide occurrence. Landslide density across the region is highly variable, but debris flow density is high on south‐ or southeast‐facing hillslopes where volcanic tephra soils are present and/or where timber harvest has occurred since 1900. High landslide density along the western coast of Baranof and Kruzof islands coincides with deposition of glacial sediment and thick tephra and exposure to extreme rainfall from atmospheric rivers on south‐facing aspects but the relative contributions of these controls are unclear. Timber harvest has also been identified as an important control on landslide occurrence in the region. Focusing on a subset of geo‐referenced landslides near Sitka, we used the SHALSTAB shallow landslide initiation model, which has been frequently applied in non‐glacial terrain, to identify areas of high landslide potential in steep, convergent terrain. In a validation against mapped landslide polygons, the model significantly outperformed random guessing, with area under the curve (AUC) = 0.709 on a performance classification curve of true positives vs. false positives. This successful application of SHALSTAB demonstrates practical utility for hazards analysis in postglacial landscapes to mitigate risk to people and infrastructure.

    more » « less