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Influence of incision rate, rock strength, and bedload supply on bedrock river gradients and valley-flat widths: Field-based evidence and calibrations from western Alpine rivers (southeast France)

Abstract : Several process-based models of river incision have been proposed in recent years that attempt to describe fluvial landform development. Although some field tests have been performed, more data are required to test the ability of these models to predict the observed evolution of fluvial landforms. We have investigated several tens of rivers located in the French western Alps that flow across folded sedimentary rocks with strongly contrasting rock strengths. These rivers record significant variations in some of the parameters controlling river incision, notably bedrock lithology, stream power, incision rate, and sediment flux, potentially allowing discrimination between existing models. Variations in incision rates are driven by variations in the amount of disequilibrium introduced in the river profiles during the last glaciation. We use diagnostic indices to investigate transport- and detachment-limited conditions, which include the channel morphology, the occurrence of lithogenic knickpoints, the continuity of alluvial and bedrock reaches, and the slope-area scaling of the river long profile. We observe transitions from detachment-limited to transport-limited conditions with increasing discharge/drainage area and decreasing incision rate. Bedrock strength influences the location of the transition predictably. The formation of transport-limited rivers coincides with the development of a valley flat wider than the active channel, which accommodates variations in bedrock strength, stream power, and incision rate along the transport-limited reaches. We propose and calibrate a model for the development of valley flats along transport-limited rivers and explore some properties of landscape development in mountain ranges controlled by transport-limited rivers.
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Submitted on : Monday, July 3, 2006 - 2:58:31 PM
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Gilles Brocard, Pieter van der Beek. Influence of incision rate, rock strength, and bedload supply on bedrock river gradients and valley-flat widths: Field-based evidence and calibrations from western Alpine rivers (southeast France). Willett, S.D., Hovius, N., Brandon, M.T., and Fisher, D. Tectonics, Climate, and Landscape Evolution, Geological Society of America, pp.101-126, 2006, Geological Society of America Special Paper 398, ⟨10.1130/2006.2398(07)⟩. ⟨hal-00083659⟩

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