skip to main content


The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 11:00 PM ET on Thursday, May 23 until 2:00 AM ET on Friday, May 24 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Title: The role of chronic and episodic disturbances on channel–hillslope coupling: the persistence and legacy of extreme floods

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
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Earth Surface Processes and Landforms
Medium: X Size: p. 1437-1447
["p. 1437-1447"]
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Intense precipitation or seismic events can generate clustered mass movement processes across a landscape. These rare events have significant impacts on the landscape, however, the rarity of such events leads to uncertainty in how they impact the entire geomorphic system over a range of timescales. Taiwan is steep, tectonically active, and prone to landslide and debris flows, especially when exposed to heavy rainfall events. Typhoon Morakot made landfall in Taiwan in August of 2009, causing widespread landslides in southern Taiwan. The south to north trend in valley relief in southern Taiwan leads to spatial variability in landslide susceptibility providing an opportunity to infer the long‐term impact of such landslide events on channel morphology. We use pre‐ and post‐typhoon imagery to quantify the propagating impact of this event on channel width as the debris is routed through the landscape. The results show the importance of cascading hazards from landslides on landscape evolution based on patterns of channel width (both pre‐ and post‐typhoon) and hillslope gradients in 20 basins along strike in southern Taiwan. Prior to Typhoon Morakot, the river channels in the central part of the study area were about 3–10 times wider than the channels in the south. Following the typhoon, aggradation and widening was also a maximum in these central to northern basins where hillslope gradients and channel steepness is high, accentuating the pre‐typhoon pattern. The results further show that the narrowest channels are located where channel steepness is the lowest, an observation inconsistent with a detachment‐limited model for river evolution. We infer this pattern is indicative of a strong role of sediment supply, and associated landslide events, on long‐term channel evolution. These findings have implications across a range of spatial and temporal scales including understanding the cascade of hazards in steep landscapes and geomorphic interpretation of channel morphology. Copyright © 2018 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    The impact of climate on topography, which is a theme in landscape evolution studies, has been demonstrated, mostly, at mountain range scales and across climate zones. However, in drylands, spatiotemporal discontinuities of rainfall and the crucial role of extreme rainstorms raise questions and challenges in identifying climate properties that govern surface processes. Here, we combine methods to examine hyperarid escarpment sensitivity to storm‐scale forcing. Using a high‐resolution DEM and field measurements, we analyzed the topography of a 40‐km‐long escarpment in the Negev desert (Israel). We also used rainfall intensity data from a convection‐permitting numerical weather model for storm‐scale statistical analysis. We conducted hydrological simulations of synthetic rainstorms, revealing the frequency of sediment mobilization along the sub‐cliff slopes. Results show that cliff gradients along the hyperarid escarpment increase systematically from the wetter (90 mm yr−1) southwestern to the drier (45 mm yr−1) northeastern sides. Also, sub‐cliff slopes at the southwestern study site are longer and associated with milder gradients and coarser sediments. Storm‐scale statistical analysis reveals a trend of increasing extreme (>10 years return‐period) intensities toward the northeast site, opposite to the trend in mean annual rainfall. Hydrological simulations based on these statistics indicate a higher frequency of sediment mobilization in the northeast, which can explain the pronounced topographic differences between the sites. The variations in landscape and rainstorm properties across a relatively short distance highlight the sensitivity of arid landforms to extreme events.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    This study examined the 70‐year history of clearcutting of old‐growth forest and associated road construction, floods, landslides, large wood in rivers, and channel change in the 64 km2Lookout Creek watershed in western Oregon, where forestry practices began in 1950 and largely ceased by the 1980s. Responses differed among three zones with distinctive geomorphic processes within the watershed: a glacially sculpted zone, an earthflow‐dominated zone, and a debris slide and debris flow‐dominated zone. Watershed response to floods was more related to the timing of road construction and clearcuts, past geomorphic events, and forest dynamics than to flood magnitude. Even small (1–3 year) floods generated geomorphic responses in the period of initial road construction and logging (1950–1964) and during ongoing logging in the early part of a 30‐year period between large flood events (1966–1995). The floods of 1964/65, 15 years after the onset of logging, produced much larger geomorphic responses than the flood of record (1996), more than a decade after logging ceased. Geomorphic response was negligible for the third largest event on record (2011) during the last period (1997–2020), when former clearcuts were 20 to 70‐year‐old forest plantations. Watershed response in each of five distinct time periods depended on conditions created during prior periods in the three zones. Understanding of watershed response to forestry requires integrated observation of forestry practices, floods, landslide susceptibility, wood delivery and movement, and channel change on time scales that capture responses to past and ongoing management practices and geophysical and biological factors and events.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Profound effects of episodic megafloods (≥106 m3/s) have been observed on Earth and Mars. Quaternary megafloods sourced from valley‐blocking glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau likely play an important role in the geomorphic evolution of the Yarlung‐Tsangpo Gorge and mountain landscape of the eastern Himalaya. We use the first 2D numerical simulation of a megaflood sourced from a reconstructed 81 km3Tibetan lake to analyze flood hydraulics and examine the erosional and depositional potential of megafloods in mountain landscapes. The simulated flood has a duration >60 hr and a peak discharge of 3.1 × 106 m3/s. We find that the extent of inundated features like terraces, narrow valley sections, tight meander bends, and overtopped ridges influences locations of observed maximum depth (370 m), speed (76 m/s), and bed shear stress (>100 kPa), creating dynamic patterns of erosive potential. Consequently, it is difficult to predict local (≤1 km) patterns of megaflood erosional potential from either unit stream power or flood power from smaller magnitude outburst floods. However, both are useful when predicting regional (≥25 km) order‐of‐magnitude shifts in megaflood flood power. Portions of the flood domain downstream of the Gorge experience lower bed shear stresses and flood power <5 kW/m2, indicating potential for significant deposition. We suggest widespread deposition of boulders within the modern channel and fine‐grained particles on hillslopes during a megaflood likely impedes subsequent erosion and affects channel width and longitudinal form throughout the flood pathway. Our findings show the legacy of megaflooding in mountainous terrain includes both extensive erosion and deposition.

    more » « less
  5. null (Ed.)
    International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Expedition 372 combined two research topics, slow slip events (SSEs) on subduction faults (IODP Proposal 781A-Full) and actively deforming gas hydrate–bearing landslides (IODP Proposal 841-APL). Our study area on the Hikurangi margin, east of the coast of New Zealand, provided unique locations for addressing both research topics. SSEs at subduction zones are an enigmatic form of creeping fault behavior. They typically occur on subduction zones at depths beyond the capabilities of ocean floor drilling. However, at the northern Hikurangi subduction margin they are among the best-documented and shallowest on Earth. Here, SSEs may extend close to the trench, where clastic and pelagic sediments about 1.0–1.5 km thick overlie the subducting, seamount-studded Hikurangi Plateau. Geodetic data show that these SSEs recur about every 2 years and are associated with measurable seafloor displacement. The northern Hikurangi subduction margin thus provides an excellent setting to use IODP capabilities to discern the mechanisms behind slow slip fault behavior. Expedition 372 acquired logging-while-drilling (LWD) data at three subduction-focused sites to depths of 600, 650, and 750 meters below seafloor (mbsf), respectively. These include two sites (U1518 and U1519) above the plate interface fault that experiences SSEs and one site (U1520) in the subducting “inputs” sequence in the Hikurangi Trough, 15 km east of the plate boundary. Overall, we acquired excellent logging data and reached our target depths at two of these sites. Drilling and logging at Site U1520 did not reach the planned depth due to operational time constraints. These logging data will be augmented by coring and borehole observatories planned for IODP Expedition 375. Gas hydrates have long been suspected of being involved in seafloor failure; not much evidence, however, has been found to date for gas hydrate–related submarine landslides. Solid, ice-like gas hydrate in sediment pores is generally thought to increase seafloor strength, as confirmed by a number of laboratory measurements. Dissociation of gas hydrate to water and overpressured gas, on the other hand, may weaken and destabilize sediments, potentially causing submarine landslides. The Tuaheni Landslide Complex (TLC) on the Hikurangi margin shows evidence for active, creeping deformation. Intriguingly, the landward edge of creeping coincides with the pinch-out of the base of gas hydrate stability on the seafloor. We therefore hypothesized that gas hydrate may be linked to creep-like deformation and presented several hypotheses that may link gas hydrates to slow deformation. Alternatively, creeping may not be related to gas hydrates but instead be caused by repeated pressure pulses or linked to earthquake-related liquefaction. Expedition 372 comprised a coring and LWD program to test our landslide hypotheses. Due to weather-related downtime, the gas hydrate-related program was reduced, and we focused on a set of experiments at Site U1517 in the creeping part of the TLC. We conducted a successful LWD and coring program to 205 mbsf, the latter with almost complete recovery, through the TLC and gas hydrate stability zone, followed by temperature and pressure tool deployments. 
    more » « less